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Sears Buildings Across The Nation Are Being Repurposed Or Redeveloped For Housing, Warehouses, Places of Worship, Even Open Space
By Tina Traster
The sale of former Sears’ buildings nationwide has ushered in a new generation of uses for former department stores, or for the valuable real estate they sit on. The wave of closures has led to redevelopment including medical facilities, warehouse distribution hubs, entertainment facilities, places of worship, and dense residential housing.
The former Sears Department Store, as well as the former Sears Auto Center in Nanuet, which Royal Properties has listed for sale, sit on nearly 14 acres of prime real estate along Route 59 in the heart of Clarkstown’s commercial district. Both buildings, victims of Sears’ decline over the past five years, have mostly sat vacant. A discount furniture store DEPO House occupies a portion of the former Sears Department Store.
Like the nearby former Macy’s building, it has been difficult to attract retail tenants, particularly department stores, as the economy shifts to online shopping, downsized big boxes, and the decline of the traditional department store. The lower level of Macy’s is leased by home goods discounter At Home, but the second floor has been vacant for years.
The former Sears Department Store at 85 W. Route 59 was shuttered in 2018, leaving a major hole in the Shops At Nanuet shopping center. Sears owned the 1960’s, 184,522 square-foot building, as well as the acreage it sits on. Sears Roebuck sold the property to SPS Portfolio Holdings LLC in 2015 for $13 million. SPS Portfolio is part of Simon Property Group’s real estate arm. The company also owns the parking lot, and the 28,067 square-foot, one-story Sears Auto tire center.
The retail site is zoned for strip center, retail, office, recreational and entertainment uses.
It is not zoned for residential use; but it situated close to the Nanuet Transportation Oriented Development (TOD) site that is slated for up to 500 residential units. No development proposals have been announced to date, but the town updated the zoning requirements to accommodate the Cohen family, which owned industrial buildings on site and has indicated an interest in redeveloping its property for residential use.
The Shops at Nanuet, which shares an easement with Sears, also has been struggling for years, though it has shown some positive signs of tenancy. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, The Shops were flailing, losing major chain tenants at a fast clip. High-end corporate names left the center, leaving an unprecedented number of empty stores, among them Starbucks. By the end of the pandemic, the outdoor mall along Route 59 looked ghostly and anemic. New tenancies appears to be breathing life into the mall with a mix of tenants including Fidelity Investments, independent business owners like Saba Rugs & Flooring, and a raft of new food and beverage operators including Roast’d Coffee.
The center is anchored by Stop & Shop, Apple, Regal cinema, 24-Hour Fitness.
Sears, the struggling 125-year-old Illinois-based retailer, has been closing stores across the United States after decades of operating as one of the nation’s largest retailers. The company, which once counted stores in the thousands, now has roughly a dozen locations nationally. Sears has slowly bled to death; it was once a groundbreaking catalog and mall anchor.
In 2005, when Sears and Kmart merged, they had 3,500 stores and more than 300,000 employees. After the merger the company concentrated on selling off its more attractive real estate and buying back stock to prop up its declining share price, rather than investing in modernizing stores to make them competitive.
By 2018 the company had filed for bankruptcy. Eddie Lampert, the hedge fund operator who negotiated the Kmart merger and served as the holding company’s CEO, bought the remains of the business out of bankruptcy in early 2019. He’d hoped to turn things around after it had shed much of its debt, unprofitable stores, and less attractive leases. Renamed Transformco after emerging from bankruptcy in 2019, there were 223 Sears stores and 202 Kmart stores. Today, the company barely exists.
Shuttered Sears have been targeted for redevelopment projects.
In Glendale, California, a Sears may become hundreds of apartments in the city’s downtown area, and a Sears in suburban Chicago is slated to become an e-commerce distribution hub. A former Sears site on the West Side of Chicago will become a Rush University Medical Center for outpatient care. In Baltimore County, a former Sears building next to White Marsh Mall could become a 516-unit residential development.
Over the years, the Simon Group has hinted at transforming the site into a hotel, convention center, and possibility residential units, though the site is not zoned for residential development.
Photo source: Crexi