After dodging several rounds of cuts, Greeneville’s Kmart store will be among those parent company Sears Holdings will close in early April.
A Sears Holdings statement posted Thursday listed Greeneville, Crossville and Goodlettsville as the Tennessee stores to face the latest round of closures.
“Sears Holdings continues its strategic assessment of the productivity of our Kmart and Sears store base and will continue to right size our store footprint in number and size. In the process, as previously announced we will continue to close some unprofitable stores,” the statement says.
Thursday’s announcement included 64 Kmart stores and 39 Sears stores, which close by early April. Liquidation sales will begin as early as Jan. 12.
Sears Holdings was at the top of national lists of retail chains likely to meet their end this year after the company spent 2017 announcing round after round of store closures and admitted “substantial doubt” they could remain in business over the long term.
The Greeneville store is the largest anchor in the Greeneville Commons, which since the 1990s has been the retail center for the town. Today, however, vacancies plague the shopping center.
Already, over one-third of the storefronts sit empty — eight of the 23 shops. Unless a new shop takes up one of the existing vacancies before Kmart closes, that loss will leave the shopping center nearly 40 percent vacant.
Because Kmart is by far the largest, and JC Penney, which closed in July 2017, was another anchor that sits empty, the percentage of empty square footage will be far more.
The center’s other anchors are Burke’s Outlet, which recently signed a five-year lease and renovated, and Belk — another company that has been closing many of its storefronts nationwide.
Brixmor, the company that owns and leases the Greeneville Commons, provided a statement regarding the recent losses and standing vacancies.
“While it is difficult to let go of stores many of us have grown up with, these closures provide an excellent opportunity to bring new retailers and services that meet the needs of the Greeneville community today,” the statement reads. “We have been proactively working with a number of national retailers to fill not only the two anchor boxes at Greeneville Commons, but also the small shop space. These negotiations are at various stages in the leasing cycle and will be announced upon completion, which we expect within the next few months. We are targeting expanding best-in-class retailers in general merchandise, apparel and shoes, pets and fitness.”
It goes on to say that the center has a draw of “close to 20 miles away,” with an appealing location and accessibility.
In September, representatives of Retail Strategies, a company the Greene County Partnership paid to market the county, indicated retailers have stalled in conversations regarding new development. Instead, those retailers may have been in conversation with Brixmor about potential availabilities where Kmart and Belk are currently located, the representatives said.
“They didn’t mention the vacancies, but I think that’s what happened,” Retail Strategies Portfolio Director Wesley Vaughn said. “Brixmor just has to pick who they’re going with and then find out when Kmart is closing.”
But several previous vacancies at the center were years long, and tenants have complained of high rent coupled with little help with the center’s maintenance. Service-oriented companies (such as an insurance agent and physical therapy clinic) are among the newest occupants, as opposed to retailers.
Legacy Fine Jewelers moved from the Commons after they were unable to negotiate a deal with Brixmor for more space at a reduced cost, owner Rick Barnes said. Now located beside Publix, Legacy has 50 percent more space for the same rent as they paid at the Commons, increased foot traffic and increased sales, according to Barnes.
“We love it over here,” he said. “We’re thrilled. I am sorry to hear about Kmart.”
Radioshack independent franchise owner Jeff Pederson was not worried about the loss, however. He said Radioshack will soon be making its second move within the Commons sometime between April and June. He said the new space will be slightly smaller, but a better fit.
Pederson said he’s been pleased with the rent and the traffic within the Commons. “I know the Commons has been struggling to stay occupied. I’m glad that Brixmor is on top of that to getting that space revitalized and getting some national in there,” he said.
Greene County Partnership President and CEO Matt Garland said Thursday that he has been in conversation with the State of Tennessee about a possible project for the Commons, and will be on a conference call next week with a consultant for a company regarding the project. He emphasized that plans are still in the earliest stages and said he has not yet contacted Brixmor about the possibility. The project would fit one of the larger vacancies, but would be more service-related than retail, he said.
As for the loss of Kmart, “It’s unfortunate,” he said. “We hate to see a retailer pull out of our community, but it wasn’t unexpected. We have been looking at different projects for the Commons. There’s a couple of ideas in place both for the Penney’s building and with Kmart.”
He said the latest he heard concerning the JC Penney space was that attorneys were working out a deal between JC Penney and Brixmor, because JC Penney still held a two-year lease.
When discussing the possibility of Kmart closing, Retail Strategies spokespeople said they had pitched Greene County to an arts and crafts store with sales of $4 million that would add 40 jobs. During their presentation they also mentioned a farm and home store with sales of $10 million that could add 60 jobs as another potential candidate to locate somewhere in the town.
The Partnership has not yet decided whether it will renew its contract with Retail Strategies for the company to continue their marketing work and could decide to go with a different firm.