Tax Cuts Can't Save Sears

Pretty soon, there won’t be anywhere left to shop but Walmart and Neiman-Marcus. That’s the lesson to take from the closing of 120 Sears and KMart stores. The retailer is disappearing, along with the middle class that bought its Craftsman wrenches, Toughskins jeans, and Kenmore washers and dryers.

“The Illinois company’s largely middle-class customer base has been sideswiped by a struggling economy, and that has translated into 18 straight quarters of sales declines,” wrote Shan Li and Ricardo Lopez in the Los Angeles Times.

Sears, which sold appliances built to last until the mortgage was paid off, was not cut out to be a deep discounter. Its CEO, Edward Lampert, tried to compete for the newly-impoverished customer by spending less money on keeping up the stores. What that produced was a chain of faded, junky-looking stores that looked as out of date as a Falcon Crest re-run.  

“Many malls that Sears anchored are zombie malls,” said retail analyst Brian Sozzi, who believes Sears is going through the same death throes as Borders and Circuit City. “They don’t generate the traffic they did 10, 15 years ago due to online competition, or an outlet opening nearby, or a newer, fresher mall opening nearby.”

If that is true, then the tax break Gov. Pat Quinn granted Sears, which will save it $15 million over the next decade, is not going to save the company. If Quinn really wanted to save Sears, he should have given cuts to middle-class taxpayers, so they could shop there.

We should have known Sears was fading away when it lost the naming rights to the Sears Tower. When that building opened in 1973, Sears was the largest retailer in the world. Its construction and occupancy of the world’s tallest building was a symbol of its omnipotence, and of Chicago’s prestige as a commercial center.

At least when Sears dies, it will leave the biggest tombstone in the world.

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