Tampa Bay Sears and Kmart stores hang in the balance as Lampert tries to bail out failing company

Chairman of Sears Holdings Edward Lampert has one last chance to offer multi-billion-dollar bid to save remaining stores from liquidation.
Published January 9
Updated January 9

One of America's oldest retailers is hanging on — but just barely.

A last-ditch deal Tuesday will keep Sears Holdings stores open as chairman Edward Lampert puts together a revised bid to buy the failing chain of stores with his hedge fund, ESL Investment. If the new deal fails, Sears and sister store Kmart could begin liquidating merchandise by the end of the month. In Tampa Bay, that would mean the loss of hundreds more jobs at the stores still standing after the latest wave of closures.

Tampa’s WestShore Plaza and Port Richey’s Gulf View Square Mall will close by late March, leaving just three Sears Holdings stores in Tampa Bay.

Lampert's hedge fund has to have $120 million deposited by 4 p.m. Wednesday in order to continue in its efforts to save the dying chain. There will be a bankruptcy auction for the 126-year-old retailer on Monday, where Lampert is expected to present a revised $4.4 billion takeover offer. But the company will also asses liquidation proposals — something many landlords, vendors and creditors have said they'd prefer, according to the Washington Post.

"As we have said before, our proposal provides substantially more value to stakeholders than would be the case in liquidation and is the only option to save an iconic American retailer and up to 50,000 jobs," ESL Investment released in a statement. "We believe in Sears and will continue to do everything we can to ensure that it has a profitable future."

Sears once stood as a robust industry leader — it was the store that had everything. But when Walmart and Target began to boom, and Amazon led Internet sales — Sears failed to keep up. It's lost billions of dollars and closed hundreds of stores. If the Sears board rejects Lampert's plan, the company's assets will likely be sold off to help pay off its massive debts.

Read more: Store closing brings familiar lament, 'I grew up with Sears'

The remaining Sears stores in the Tampa Bay area are in Brooksville and Brandon. The area's last Kmart is in Kenneth City, right on the border of St. Petersburg. The Brooksville Sears space is owned by Sears Holdings and the Kmart by an off-shoot of Sears started by Lampert called Seritage Properties.

Hillsborough property records indicate the Brandon location may now be owned by the mall, though neither Westfield nor Sears could be immediately reached for comment.

Most mall operators view the consolidation of dying department stores as a chance to reinvent the spaces to meet the needs of modern shoppers. That's what WestShore Plaza said it had planned before Sears announced it was even leaving that location.

In a response to a shopper on Twitter Wednesday, Sears wrote: "It's never to(o) late to fight for what you love ... thanks for your support."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.