The letter “A’’ in the Sears sign is burned out. The rest of the letters will follow shortly.
Just inside the store at the southern end of Gulfview Square mall is another sign. It is bright yellow and tells the real story. “Store closing sale.’’
It’s a notice that saddens Pat Chaffee. She’s 81, a retiree in New Port Richey who frequently walks five laps around the mall's interior hallways for exercise. She worked at a Sears store in Westland, Michigan, for five years. Her work history also includes a Sears store in Idaho, plus employment with Kohl’s and Lowe’s.
“I’m from the old school. That’s where you shopped,’’ Chaffee said of her affinity for Sears. “It was a terrific store at one time.’’
But on the last Friday of 2018 — Black Friday, for sure, for some people — Sears Holdings announced it was closing another 80 stores, including the location that had provided an anchor at Gulfview Square.
Last week, a handful of shoppers perused the merchandise just after the 10 a.m. opening and reminisced with a couple of journalists about what Sears had been.
Craftsman tools. Kids sneakers. Toys. Blue jeans. Kenmore appliances. Tires at the auto center. The excitement that accompanied the arrival of the Sears catalogue in the mailbox.
Nobody mentioned the man on page 602, the underwear model in the 1975 edition who appeared to be showing more than his thighs at the bottom of his boxer shorts.
Some customers — window shoppers really — came looking for bargains. Others thought the store may have closed already.
“I grew up with Sears,’’ said Harrison Manley, 64, of New Port Richey. “We’d get our Christmas gifts there and all of our clothes.’’
But the changing landscape of retailing, with online shopping replacing bricks-and-mortar storefronts, is evident at Gulfview Square, where two other department stores, JCPenney and Macy’s, have closed since 2014.
“I haven’t been in (Sears) in a few years, and the last time I did there was hardly anybody in there,’’ said Alice Blackburn, a seasonal resident from Tennessee.
Nobody seemed to know exactly when Sears will close for the last time.
“I don’t know. They don’t tell us anything,’’ said one sales associate.
A large blue sign on the building’s exterior, facing the mall parking lot on U.S. 19, boasted that the store was open. Inside there were advertisements for the semi-annual blow-out sale.
You also could save an extra 10 percent on footwear if you used your Sears credit card, though the fine print said that deal ended Dec. 25, according to a sign in the shoe department. Some shelves were empty.
The Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. developed the mall on U.S. 19, opening its doors in 1980 as the center of retail commerce in west Pasco. It has been sold three times since, most recently in February 2017 to Namdar Realty Group of Long Island, N.Y.
Sears owns its location, but it is for sale. Dillard’s, the only remaining anchor after Sears exits, also owns its site on the mall’s north end.
The mall still welcomes those morning walkers, and a poster inside advertises “Live Pro Wrestling Every Wednesday night’’ in the mall’s event center that is available for private parties. The drop kicks and full nelsons aren’t the only draw. A bucket of domestic beers goes for $15.
The key to the mall’s future is being played out on its back side, the portion of the building facing west toward the Gulf of Mexico. Crews from PAW Demolition are using heavy construction equipment to clear the space formerly occupied by JCPenney and Macy’s.
B & Z of Port Richey, a company formed by the principals of Dorvidor Management Co. of Miami, purchased the two closed stores, parking lots and a drainage area totaling 34.5 acres last year. The developers plan to turn what is now the twisted metal of downed light poles and piles of cement rubble into nearly 400 apartments known as Gables at Gulf View.
“I don’t know,’’ said Chaffee, the former Sears employee. “Maybe that will bring some life out here.’’
Contact C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.