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Sears is leaving Minnesota, closing another door on its history

Sears announced that it may sell three of its iconic brands -- Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard. The company said it is looking at strategic alternatives for its Home Services installation and repair businesses as well.

MINNESOTA — In the early 1990s, the bold blue letters of a Sears sign were raised above the entrance to one of four anchor stores at the sprawling new Mall of America near Minneapolis. In the heyday of shopping malls, it was evidence of the century-old retailer’s enduring success.

Then online shopping changed everything.

Sears Holdings, which also owns Kmart, is now fighting to stay in business and facing possible liquidation as it undergoes bankruptcy. The company on Friday identified 80 Sears and Kmart stores it plans to shut down — including the Mall of America site — adding to about 200 stores that were already pegged for closure.

From Chicago and Omaha to Minneapolis-St. Paul, the once-dominant retailer is disappearing from communities that it helped reshape a century ago by introducing factory-made goods into US homes.

Sears’ location at the Mall of America, a five-million-square-foot tourist destination that opened in 1992, was the only full-scale Sears store in Minnesota that wasn’t already earmarked to shut down. Soon, the brand will be all but erased from the state where its namesake co-founder first entered the retail business.

Richard Sears, a former railroad station agent, started selling watches as a side business in North Redwood, Minnesota in 1886 before moving to Chicago and incorporating Sears Roebuck. At a time when Americans made most of their own goods, Sears debuted catalogs that sold tools, dishes, TVs, clothes, appliances and — for a time — even houses. Its big-box stores later became mainstays across US malls and shopping centers.

For much of the 20th century, Sears was not only the nation’s largest retailer, it was the largest private-sector employer.

But digital giants like Amazon redefined consumerism yet again, and malls fell out of favor with many shoppers.

Sears Holdings has lost $12 billion over the past eight years as sales plunged 60%.

The company, which once operated more than 3,000 stores, filed for bankruptcy in October. It said at the time that only about 400 of its 700 remaining locations could turn a profit.

Eddie Lampert, Sears’ chairman and its largest creditor, made a last-minute $4.4 billion bid Friday for 425 stores and other Sears’ assets, potentially saving as many as 50,000 jobs. The proposal will need approval from the judge overseeing Sears’ bankruptcy proceedings.

Creditors, however, are asking for liquidation.

In a court filing, a creditors’ attorney called Sears’ plan to become profitable “nothing more than wishful thinking ” and “an unjustified and foolhardy gamble with other people’s money.”

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