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published on December 31, 2018 - 12:47 PM
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Sears and Kmart stores may be saved from liquidation by a $4.4 billion bid to buy what’s left of the imperiled retail chains, but not in time to save the last Valley Kmarts.

The Kmart stores in Coalinga and Kingsburg closed last year as part of a years-long downsizing effort to eliminate less profitable stores and shore up the finances of Sears Holdings Corp., which owns the two department store chains.

Since then, the corporation filed for Chapter 11 protection on Oct. 15 and submitted to the New York Federal Bankruptcy Court a restructuring plan that included eliminating 142 more Sears and Kmart stores.

The Clovis Kmart, on the chopping block before the bankruptcy filing, shut down in November, and the last four Kmarts in this area — the Visalia, Lemoore and Delano stores — are liquidating merchandise before closing on Jan. 6.

And while the Sears at the Hanford Mall closed in April, none of the other Valley Sears stores nor the Fresno Sears Outlet were on the October closure list, nor were they on Sears Holdings’ list of 40 more store closings announced in November or the 80 more announced last week.

Instead, the corporation announced in October plans to reduce the sizes of the Sears retail stores it owns. Well before that disclosure, though, half of space of the Sears store at the Sequoia Mall in Visalia already was listed for lease, while a lease already had been signed for half of the Sears at Manchester Center in Fresno.

The new tenant for that space hasn’t yet been announced.

“The Company believes that a successful reorganization will save the company and the jobs of tens of thousands of store associates,” states a press release on the Sears Holdings website.

The Sears store at the Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis isn’t part of Sears Holdings’ plans for smaller stores, as it’s separately owned.

As for the Sears Auto Center at the Hanford Mall, which is detached from the now vacant former Sears store and has remained open since the store closed, it isn’t on any of the current closure lists.

And the Sears Hometown stores in Selma and Oakhurst are part of a company that broke off from the Sears chain in 2012, so they aren’t affected by Sears Holdings’ restructuring plans, even though they continue selling the same Craftsman-brand hardware, Kenmore appliances and other brands available at Sears stores.

All of this speaks of the spiraling decline of what was once the nation’s largest and strongest retail chain, which as recently as 2012 had about 4,000 stores but suffered from retail competition, particularly from other big box retailers and from Amazon and other online vendors.

Sears and Kmarts have been hit so hard that Friday was the deadline for Sears Holing to receive viable offers to buy it or risk the bankruptcy court possibly ordering a full liquidation of the company’s assets.

The only bid came from ESL Investments, a hedge fund that not only is the largest shareholder and creditor of Sears Holdings but also is run by Edward S. Lampert, the former CEO and current chairman of the board for Sears Holdings.

Lampert has in the past offered to buy the rights to Sears’ Kenmore appliance brand, and in February, Sears Holdings announced it had secured a $210 billion loan through Lambert’s ESL Investments and other sources.

Officials at Sears Holdings declined to comment on the purchase bid, though the Associated Press reports that that ESL is looking to buy roughly 500 stores but keep operating just 425 of them and keep about 50,000 employees.

The corporation listed having about 68,000 employees in its October bankruptcy filing.

ESL’s bid still requires court approval to go forward, and a hearing on the matter is set for mid January, according to news reports.

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