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Smaller side of Sears?


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Sears might be closing its downtown Columbus store Sunday after an 85-year run, but it isn’t necessarily leaving local shoppers without access to its familiar brands.

The company hopes to find a local entrepreneur to start, own and operate a Sears Hometown Store, a smaller version of the retailing giant.

Pam Graham, who owns the North Vernon Sears Hometown Store, plans to be that entrepreneur.

Graham said Friday she has been talking with Sears about its efforts to open the Columbus store and is working with a Realtor for a location.

“We have three sites and have pinpointed one of them,” Graham said.

All three locations are along 25th Street on Columbus’ north side. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the store will wind up there because of budget constraints, she said.

The Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores program, established in 1993, is part of the company’s strategy to provide convenient shopping for customers, Mike Jones said.

Jones, regional development manager for Sears Hometown Stores, said each store has 7,000 to 10,000 square feet of space and offers a wide selection of appliances, tools, mattresses, fitness equipment and lawn and garden equipment. Sears brands include Kenmore appliances, Craftsman tools and lawn and garden equipment and DieHard batteries.

The size, however, will be far smaller than the retail store Sears has operated near Third and Brown streets since The Commons opened in 1973.

Parent company Sears Holding announced Jan. 10 it would close the 62,800-square-foot retail store and adjacent auto center, which occupies nearly 10,000 square feet in downtown Columbus.

The nearest Sears Hometown Store is Graham’s store at 247 N. Walnut St. in North Vernon. The 7,100-square-foot store opened in March 2008, and Graham became the owner two years ago.

“I managed a similar store in Madison for four years,” Graham said.

She said the North Vernon store has become a premier dealer store — meeting the company’s standards for customer satisfaction and store performance — since she purchased it two years ago.

She said her goal is to give customers what they need at the best prices, and that customers visiting a Sears Hometown Store will be treated to a different shopping experience than what they received while shopping at a mall-type store.

“You’ll get personal, one-on-one type service,” Graham said.

Sears’ downtown Columbus store had 31 employees, most of them working part time, when the closing was announced.

Jones said the number of employees at Sears Hometown Stores is a decision left up to the owner, but a typical store will have four to six people on staff.

Graham said that’s about the number of employees, including herself, who work at the North Vernon store.

“I’ll probably have more — six to eight — at Columbus because that store will be busier,” she said.

Graham said she is willing to talk about jobs with former employees of the downtown Sears store.

The lease with Columbus Capital Foundation for the downtown Sears store was not renewed in part due to the store’s poor financial performance, according to the company. The closure is part of a transformation of the company business model, according to Sears, and also in response to a Nov. 21 report that Sears shareholders lost $534 million during the third quarter.

Customers to Sears Hometown Stores have access to the company’s full selection of products, repair services and product-protection agreements through in-store kiosks.

The Columbus store would be the 23rd in operation in Indiana, Jones said. Other Sears Hometown Stores in the region are located in Franklin, Shelbyville, Madison, Greensburg and Bedford.

He said the program is not considered a franchise program because Sears does not require an individual to purchase inventory or pay an annual licensing fee. Sears supports the stores by providing all inventory, advertising, point-of-sale computer systems, delivery, support and training, he said.

In late January, Sears Holdings also announced that its 86,500-square-foot Kmart store at Fair Oaks Mall would be closing.

Kmart has been running a store-closing sale for more than a month at the Columbus location, which opened in 1989.

A representative with Eldon W. Gottschalk & Associates Inc., of Huntington Beach, Calif., which is handling store-closing advertising for Kmart, said Friday that the last sale date for the Columbus store would be April 27.

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