Sears closing in SLO, 89 years after opening its first local store

Merina Keller, 24, was unimpressed by the selection of maternity clothes at Sears during a visit on Thursday. “I just went in there and they don’t have crap,” she said.
Merina Keller, 24, was unimpressed by the selection of maternity clothes at Sears during a visit on Thursday. “I just went in there and they don’t have crap,” she said. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The Sears store in San Luis Obispo will close its doors this summer, the company said Thursday, marking the local end of one of the nation’s most venerable retailers.

Sears, which has operated a location in San Luis Obispo for nearly 90 years, will close its store in the Madonna Plaza shopping center in late July, according to Howard Riefs, director of corporate communications for Sears Holdings, the company that owns Sears and Kmart. The store will begin its liquidation sale May 12.

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The two Kmart stores in San Luis Obispo County, one in Atascadero and one in Arroyo Grande, will remain open, Riefs said.

“We have been strategically and aggressively evaluating our store space and productivity and have accelerated the closing of unprofitable stores as previously announced,” Riefs wrote in an email, adding that the company isn’t disclosing the number of employees affected by the closure.

Sears 1976
A worker installs the sign on the Sears store at the Madonna Plaza, prior to its opening on August 11, 1976. Tribune file photo

The store has been an anchor of the shopping center for decades, outlasting competitors like Gottschalks and Mervyn’s and the comings and goings of stores like Forever 21 and Sports Authority, even as its own sales dwindled and more and more shoppers migrated online.

Customers react

On Thursday afternoon, the Sears parking lot was mostly deserted. Few shoppers trickled in and out of the store.

“I just went in there and they don’t have crap,” said Merina Keller, 24, who said she was shopping for maternity clothes. “They should be closing because they don’t have much of anything.”

Keller said she had gone to Old Navy and T.J. Maxx before making her last stop at Sears. She said she wouldn’t normally go to Sears because most of their clothing was “stuff your grandma would wear.”

Keller’s mother, Peggy Keller, echoed her daughter’s sentiments.

“It doesn’t surprise me much because it has gone down,” she said.

But Patricia Grattan, 92, said she’ll miss the store, where she goes to buy “sporting clothes” she can walk around in.

“That’s too bad,” she said. “I’m going to miss it.”

Nine decades of SLO history

Sears arrived in San Luis Obispo in 1928 when it opened an auto equipment supply outlet at 968 Higuera St. on the northwest corner of Higuera and Court streets. It was the 15th store to be opened in the entire western United States and came a mere three years after the former mail-order-only business opened its first retail outlet in Chicago.

Within six years, it had outgrown that space and moved two blocks down to 879 Higuera, the space now occupied by the Gap, where it remained for the next 42 years, expanding and remodeling to keep pace with the growing community.

Sears moved to the Madonna Plaza on Aug. 11, 1976, taking over a 75,000-square-foot space previously occupied by Grant City department store, which had closed the previous November.

The closure news comes after the company announced in January that it would shutter 150 stores in 2017, according to Business Insider, which reported in late April that the company planned to close even more stores.

The Sears Auto Center will close in late May, Riefs said.

Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF

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Several properties owned by the Naman family are set to go on the market in downtown San Luis Obispo, including spaces that house The Network, Avanti, BarrelHouse Brewing Co. and Wing Stop.

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