Middletown official: Sears’ planned closing ‘not at all related’ to mall

5:39 p.m Wednesday, June 7, 2017 Middletown

The latest installment in the Towne Mall Galleria saga features the closing of a longtime tenant later this year and the scheduled opening of a new one next week.

Sears will shut down its location at the shopping mall, one of 72 planned additional store closings on top of the 180 stores already announced as closing.

The company’s list of closing stores includes 16 Sears, 49 Kmart stores and seven more auto centers, according to the Business Insider. Stores could close by September.

Sears’ 63,709-square-foot location at Towne Mall Galleria was built in 1976 and remodeled in 2003, according to the Warren County Auditor’s Office.

Sears has been closing retail locations since 2010 and “while disappointed, we are not surprised by this announcement,” said Jennifer Ekey, Middletown’s director of economic development.

“This closure is not at all related to the mall,” Ekey said. “The mall has entered a period of revitalization as evidenced by the opening of Gabe’s, Burlington, Planet Fitness and the new outlot/pad development housing Buffalo Wild Wings, Aspen Dental, GNC and now Sports Clips.”

“Many millions of dollars have been invested in the mall and the subsequent outlots and that investment continues to improve the area,” she said.

Howard Riefs, director of corporate communications for Sears, confirmed the company is making the “difficult, but necessary decision” to close the Middletown Sears.

“The store will close to the public in early September,” Riefs said. “Until then, the store will remain open for customers.

The store will begin its liquidation sale on June 16, he 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 said. “We often hear from our members who are disappointed when we close a store, but our Shop Your Way membership platform, websites and mobile apps allow us to maintain these valued relationships long after a store closes its doors.

“As a result, we hope to retain a portion of the sales previously associated with this store by maintaining our relationships with the members who shopped this location.”

Riefs said the number of associates working at the store is not publicly available.

“Those associates that are eligible will receive severance and have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Sears or Kmart stores,” he said.

There’s also positive news coming out of the shopping center this week. Sports Clips, the nation’s largest franchise dedicated to men’s and boys’ hair care, is scheduled to open a new location next Tuesday at 3427 Towne Blvd. next to Buffalo Wild Wings.

The new, locally-owned Sports Clips is the latest of the franchise’s more than 1,600 locations across the United States and Canada.

Ekey said the opening of the haircut business “does offset some of the job loss” with the closure of Sears.

“Additionally, there are jobs available in all retail, commercial and industrial sectors in the city,” she said.

Since purchasing the mall in 2012, a California investment group led by George Ragheb has worked to fill vacancies left by the departure of retailers Dillard’s and Dunham’s Sports. The group secured leases from Burlington Coat Factory ( 2015, nearly 11-year lease), Gabe’s ( 2015, 11-year lease) and fitness center Planet Fitness ( 2016, 20-year lease).

That investment group also has worked to bring development to outparcels in front of the shopping mall by selling property to an outside developer, which built and opened Buffalo Wild Wings and Aspen Dental Group.

Although the mall has enjoyed a series of openings in recent years, retail giant Elder-Beerman closed there earlier this year.

Ragheb could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

A 111,020-square-foot section of the mall recently was purchased by Florida real estate group Phoenicia Development in April for $8.25 million, according to the Warren County Auditor’s Office.

That portion of the mall is 3455 Towne Blvd., which is now Burlington Coat Factory, which opened in March 2015, and discount retailer Gabe’s, which in October 2015 in place of Dillard’s.

Phoenicia Development officials previously told this media outlet that the property is “a good investment” in a good area for growth, especially with a developer “making a lot of activities in it.”

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