End of an Era

Last full-service Sears in Pa. to close

Jocelyn Wright, Entertainment Editor

Sears was a retail giant, founded in the 1880s by Richard Sears. While the company began as a watch retailer, it soon grew to sell a full array of apparel, appliances, home furnishings and other products.

The Sears at Willow Grove Mall in Montgomery County, Pa., opened in 1987, spanning three stories full of merchandise. This store, the last full-service Sears in Pa., will be closing this spring. While the exact closure date has not yet been announced, the store has already begun blowout sales ad clearance.

An Interview by Action News on Jan. 26 received this statement from PREIT, the owners of the Willow Grove Mall:

“While we are sad to see our long-standing tenant close, PREIT has extensive experience in replacing department stores and bringing new-to-market concepts to our portfolio, as evidenced by the upcoming addition of Tilted 10 here at Willow Grove Park and the recent redevelopment of the Macy’s box at Plymouth Meeting Mall with five tenants – Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michael’s, Burlington, Edge Fitness and Miller’s Ale House.”

Both PREIT and Transformco (Sears’s parent company) are citing real estate improvement as the main reason for closing the location. Sears lacks the consumer base it had before the shift to online shopping and is ultimately a strong example of why department stores are becoming obsolete.

When Sears declared bankruptcy in 2018, it fell from its peak of 300,000 employees to fewer than 69,000 full- and part-time workers worldwide. Online companies, such as Amazon, grew from 647,500 employees in 2018 to nearly 1,608,000 full- and part-time employees in 2021.

Online shopping is greatly outcompeting in-person shopping and this competition is driving out age-old brands that paved the way during the consumer revolution. While the Sears Hometown Stores and Sears Appliances Repair service centers remain open, only 14 full-service stores are still in business. Many of these stores have plans to close within the coming months.

For those who grew up alongside these retail stores, it may be a strange shift to see these stores disappear. For younger generations this may seem trivial.

One thing is for sure, this is the end of the department store era. The question now is what does the future of retail look like and is it an improvement from the stores we knew and loved?