Mall marketing director Anna Marie Chwastiak said, “It’s an unfortunate trend that the Sears company is going through, but it’s not a surprise. We’ve been very, very blessed to have the store as long as we have."
LEESBURG — Sears is closing its doors at Lake Square Mall.
“After careful review, we have made the difficult but necessary decision to close the Sears store in Leesburg, Florida,” said Larry Costello, public relations director for Transformco Sears/Kmart.
“The liquidation sale is expected to begin in mid-September and the store is planned to close by mid-December. We encourage customers to continue shopping on Sears.com for all their product needs," he wrote in an email.
“It’s terrible,” said Phyllis Dillahunt, who was about to enter the store. “I’ve been expecting it,” said her husband, Dick.
The Dillahunts, who are from Springfield, Ohio, say they have had to drive to Dayton to find large stores.
“I’ll miss the guy with the watches,” said Travis Scopino, referring to the watch repairman.
“Disappointed,” was the way Norman Bassett put it. “I buy all my tires here. I understand the financial situation."
“I feel sad,” said Joe Dillman.
Mall marketing director Anna Marie Chwastiak said, “It’s an unfortunate trend that the Sears company is going through, but it’s not a surprise. We’ve been very, very blessed to have the store as long as we have,” she said.
“On the flip side, we’ve had three national chains fighting to get into the former J.C. Penney space. Everyone wants that U.S. 441 entrance.”
Online shopping and other changes have altered the retail landscape.
Meir Benzaken, principal owner of the mall, said in December that the former J.C. Penney store space will likely be divided into three or four smaller store spaces.
The average size of stores today is 15,000 square feet. The maximum is 30,000, he said.
Transformco announced the closing of 26 stores on Aug. 6. “…we will continue to evaluate our network of Sears and Kmart stores and cannot rule out additional store closures in the near term," a press release stated. Now, that number has grown to about 100, according to USA Today.
“Over the past several months, we have worked hard to strengthen our vendor relationships, return our inventory levels to normal, and improve customer satisfaction and operations; however, we have faced a number of challenges returning our stores to sustainable levels of productivity, including differences with Sears Holdings over our purchase agreement and a generally weak retail environment,” Transformco said in a press release.
At the same time, it announced that it was going to “accelerate” the opening of smaller stores, including Home & Life and Sears Hometown and Outlet stores.
Transformco struck a deal with Sears Holdings in February to buy Sears assets out of bankruptcy in hopes of keeping 400 stores open.
Sears Holdings announced last October that it was closing 146 stores as part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but that the Leesburg store was not one of them.
Sears, with its auto center, is one of the last original anchor stores remaining at the mall, which opened in 1980.
J.C. Penney closed its doors and Target moved out, as well. Belk’s remains, and the mall on U.S. Highway 441, which is undergoing several positive changes, is erecting a new entrance. Via Entertainment converted the old Target store into a bowling alley and arcade, golf-cart track and recently had a soft opening for the Winterland ice skating rink. AMC has refurbished its theaters.
Benzaken's company paid $23 million for the mall in 2017 and vowed to spend $3 million to $5 million in improvements.
The mall, under Benzaken’s ownership, got some help from the city of Leesburg with a $500,000 economic development grant for a new façade.