Meijer is in, Sears is out

<strong>The Way I See It</strong> Jason Hawk, editor

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor

Meijer is coming to the Amherst-Lorain border, as confirmed in late May by the $6.3 million sale of the former Super Kmart property on Cooper Foster Park Road.

Doors there could open in 2020.

The regional retailer was among the first in the 1960s to roll out supercenters with groceries, electronics, home goods, medicine, and clothing under one roof.

Its arrival will mean a big investment in construction, jobs, and capital. The property sits just inside the city of Lorain, so it won’t kick in any tax money to the city of Amherst — but it’s within the bounds of the Amherst school district, which will benefit.

We’ll be watching the store’s impact on surrounding property values, uptown traffic, and nearby competing businesses, anxious to see whether Meijer acts as a magnet for more development.

Meijer’s expansion signals an interesting time in retail. As smaller, nimble department stores take root, old retail models are being crushed and left in the dirt.

Meijer’s rise is enabled by Kmart’s fall. The Blue Light Special store has closed half its locations since 2005 and Warren, Ohio, is home to its last “super center.” You won’t find any Kmarts in Lorain County, though a few remain in nearby Cuyahoga.

Kmart is owned by Sears Holdings, which is in a death spiral. Sears Hardware on Cooper Foster has been replaced by a Planet Fitness and the parent company shut down more than 150 stores in the first quarter of 2017. Now Sears at Midway Mall in Elyria will close as the company shutters 72 more locations in an attempt to cut operating expenses by $1 billion this year.

The mall itself is up for sale and could soon have a new owner. It’s been hit in recent years by the closure of two major anchors, Macy’s and Dillard’s.

Best Buy and J.C. Penney remain there. Analysts say the first could find relief from the demise of its competitors, though online retailers such as Amazon have taken a heavy toll on profits. The second is in crisis mode, announcing 138 store closings in March as part of a plan to save $200 million per year and pay down its $4 billion in debt.

These kinds of mass closings aren’t unprecedented.

I recently chatted with Tom Hutson, the publisher of the Lorain County Community Newspapers, about the many department stores and big boxes that have flown too close to the sun. It didn’t take long to cobble together a short list of big names that went defunct: Montgomery Ward, Ames, Circuit City, Woolworth’s, Borders, Bradlees, Higbee’s, Value City, Newberry’s, Lazarus, May Company.

What’s notable about today’s declines is the sheer scope, Hutson said.

Look at Sears. Aside from the Internet, Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Roebuck engineered the most significant revolution in retail history, taking a small watch company and turning it into a mail-order catalog service that completely replaced the general store model.

The catalog debuted in 1888 and within two decades consumers anywhere in the country could buy anything from hammers to cars from the 500-page volume. You could even buy an entire kit house — materials for a two-story Maytown model could be bought as cheaply as $753, according to an ad from just after the turn of the 20th century.

Sears department stores started springing up everywhere in the 1920s. Brick-and-mortar sales outpaced catalog sales in the 1930s and business boomed after World War II as America chased the suburban dream.

Business started to sour in the 1980s amid competition and Wal-Mart surpassed Sears in 1990 as the world’s largest retailer. Now Wal-Mart is fighting back Internet competition — barely — with sales rising 1.4 percent in the first quarter and profits falling by almost as much.

Meanwhile, other brick-and-mortar retailers are crashing and burning. Last week, Hudson Bay, which owns Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, said it will cut 2,000 jobs.

On Saturday, Ascena Retail Group, which has Loft, Ann Taylor, and Lane Bryant among its holdings, said it plans to close between 250 and 650 locations over the next two years amid declining mall traffic.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor