Trying to Close For Good, Hub City’s Sears Left in Limbo by Virus Outbreak

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The city’s Sears department store will remain open until at least April 19, a week later than previously announced, an employee told New Brunswick Today.

The reason for the extension is to allow more time for the “sell-down of goods” on hand in the store, a task that has proven harder than anticipated in light of the contagious disease pandemic wreaking havoc around the globe.

The task became even more challenging following executive orders from Governor Phil Murphy that force “non-essential” retail stores to close to slow the spread of the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.

On March 28, only some parts of the store were open, such as the portions that sell appliances, mattresses, fitness equipment, and tools.

A cordoned-off section of the New Brunswick Sears

But, according to signs posted near a blocked-off section, the retailer “now cannot sell clothing,” by order of the State of New Jersey.

After the coronavirus, spread to the Garden State, Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency on March 9, and he has since issued eight additional virus-related executive orders.

Some of those orders have forced businesses to close down until further notice.

But after many decades in its Route 1 location, Sears had already announced it would close the New Brunswick store back in February.

According to a Reuters report, Sears reached an agreement with Brigade Capital Management LC for $100 million in financing — the beleaguered retailer’s latest “lifeline.”

But the retailer said on February 6, ahead of the report, that it would shutter the New Brunswick location permanently.

Sears’ owner, Eddie Lampert, saved the bankrupt retailer in a $5.2 billion takeover a year ago, and has also bankrolled the corporation in recent months, according to the report, citing anonymous sources.

Sears is operating as Transform Holdco LLC, or the “new Sears,” following its 2018 bankruptcy filing. Lampert’s ESL Investments hedge fund owns the company.

“Brigade has extended loans to other troubled retailers,” added Reuters, citing chain store Barneys New York Inc. and childrens’ clothing store chain Gymboree.

Worker holding up signs advertising the closing

In Hub City, the Sears store is promoting “Store Closing” and “Everything Must Go” banners and signs on the building and a neighboring Sears Auto Store.

Standing next to the highway’s shoulder, individuals were holding signs promoting the closing sale on February 22.

Among the other Sears locations slated for closure are the ones in Woodbridge Center Mall, Livingston Mall, and Moorestown Mall.

Larry Costello, a spokesman for Transform Holdco, said recently that after carefully reviewing the New Brunswick and Livingston stores, the company made the difficult, yet necessary decision to add them to the list of New Jersey closures.

“We are excited to bring Sears Hometown, its associates and network of independent dealers and franchisees back into the Sears and Kmart family,” Lampert said last year.

“We see many opportunities where we can partner to serve our customers better and enjoy efficiencies of scale once these businesses are under one roof.”

However, technology has changed retail forever, and Middlesex County represents just one geography that’s said to be “over-stored.”

Dubbing Sears a “much-storied retailer” Neil Saunders, Managing Director of GlobalData Retail, in January 2019, said it was nearing “its long road to collapse,” as it moved toward liquidation.

“Its recent journey … has been characterized by incredibly poor strategic decisions, chronic under investment, and continuous financial machinations designed to keep the company afloat,” Saunders said, citing Sears’ poor stock market performance.

“Even the once most powerful and cutting edge of brands can easily fail in a retail environment where change and evolution are the order of the day.”

Consumers have drifted away to other brands and retailers, Saunders noted, citing the “strong consumer economy.”

Dave is an award-winning business reporter who has authored over 200 articles for New Brunswick Today.