Okay, just a quick tidbit I wanted to include in yesterday’s post about one clothing store in Madison opening and another closing, but thought it best to save for this separate post. When I was at West Towne Mall on Saturday, I ventured into Sears and noticed this:
I’ll get to the “Sears” part of that tweet in a moment, but I want to discuss the Lands’ End part first. For the uninitiated, Lands’ End specializes in (very comfortable) clothing, outerwear, luggage, and even some home furnishings. Lands’ End is a Wisconsin-based retailer; in fact, its headquarters are just down the road from Madison (it’s a roughly 25-minute drive from here westward to Dodgeville).
Lands’ End as a prominent mail order and online presence, though it does also have a brick-and-mortar existence. It’s nowhere near the ubiquitous one-store-in-every-town feel of a Target or Walmart, but Lands’ End has a handful of outlets, smaller “inlet” stores, pop-up locales, and devoted sections in Sears department stores. That relationship with Sears came about when Sears bought Lands’ End in 2002, adding Lands’ End content to many of its stores. It’s a relationship that would continue even after Sears spun off Lands’ End into a separately traded company in 2013. Behind that sign in the above tweet, there is, for now, a Lands’ End department in the northeast corner of the West Towne Mall Sears location that features the nautically-themed Lighthouse brand of Lands’ End-produced clothing and luggage.
Which brings me to the reason for the “for now” phrase in that last paragraph: Every retailer has had their own share of struggles in their own way, and Lands’ End is not immune to that: It has tried to gear some of its lines toward a younger, urban crowd, but has still lost out to other youth-catering retailers. It’s posted 3 consecutive quarterly losses to its financial ledger. And its CEO departed the company just a week and a half ago. But Sears’ parent company has gone through its own struggles of late, and they have been significant, up to and including the closing or downsizing of several Sears and Kmart locations across the country. (Side note: The last Kmart in Madison closed well over a decade ago.) One of the Sears locations being downsized is the one at West Towne where Lands’ End will vacate its devoted corner (as the sign confirms, it does have another location in Madison, right down the road from where I work).
So, why is this particular Sears downsizing? Well, the obvious reason is that Sears is a shell of its former self, and the West Towne location seems to encapsulate Sears’ problems: There was very little foot traffic when I ventured there on Saturday. Its electronics department is seemingly down to the bare bones (I’m guessing they’re de-emphasizing those fancy TVs and stereos and letting the Best Buys of the world take up the slack). And the new fashions they had on display seemed to me… well, a bit underwhelming.
One avenue Sears is taking to perk itself up is to sell and/or downsize some of its properties. One of those properties is the Sears at West Towne, which, while it is attached to the rest of the mall, is a separate property from the mall itself. The owners of West Towne Mall have never owned the Sears property, and still do not, as the location is now owned a real estate trust Sears spun off from itself last year. What the real estate trust has proposed to do with the West Towne Sears is literally divide it in three sections: Half of the property will remain a downsized-and-remodeled Sears store; the rest will be split between a Dave & Busters restaurant and another retailer.
So, while Sears may be getting smaller, there’s still the lingering question of what they put on sale. As I noted above, I don’t have the urgency to snap up any clothing on sale. And as the 2nd tweet above notes, the atmosphere is… well, I guess “mausoleum-like” wasn’t the best descriptive, but while the florescent lights are still on, the place is pretty quiet. Will “half of a Sears” spruce things up? Will the “Now Hiring” sign out front for seasonal employees do the same? Will it still be occupied in five years? Ten? That’s all to be determined. At least Sears… well, this particular Sears, anyway, is trying to make things brighter.
But at least I’ll still check the place out every now and again. Oh, and that reminds me… I may need a new travel bag for the next time I visit my family. I wonder if Lands’ End has something big enough.