QUEENSBURY — The parent company of Sears announced late Wednesday that the Aviation Mall store will be shuttered as part of the latest round of the chain's store closures.
The store is expected to close by the end of September, according to a list released by Sears Holdings. The 95,000-square-foot store has been one of the mall's main anchors since it opened in July 1977, two years after the mall was built. It replaced a store at Queensbury Plaza and employed about 300 people at that time. Prior to the Queensbury Plaza store opening in 1962, Sears was located in downtown Glens Falls, opening that store on Maple Street in 1940.
The news was almost welcomed by other mall store owners, who say the Sears side of the mall needs an anchor store that actually draws in customers.
Even the mall manager has criticized Sears, saying last fall he was almost disappointed when Sears renewed its lease. He wanted to market the large space to more popular big stores. His vision: get a big, booming business into the space, draw enough foot traffic to rebuild the mostly vacant food court and see smaller businesses flourish from the customers who stop in after visiting the big store.
Now, he has his chance. But he was not shouting triumph Thursday. Instead, he expressed concern for the employees who would lose their jobs.
"The closing of Sears at Aviation ends a partnership that lasted for over four decades," mall Manager James Griffith said. "At this time, we empathize with the longtime managers and employees who have been a part of so many memories."
Griffith also emailed a statement from Pyramid Management Group, which stated, in part, "We have been proactively working to re-lease the space and will be able to share those plans in the near future. We are confident we will fill the Sears store with brands and uses that our guests will be very excited by."
Nearby store owners said they are looking forward to a replacement.
"I like the other side of the mall. This side is certainly slow. I want something to come over here," said M.D. Rakib, who sells cellphone covers, fixes phones and also runs a snack store.
Despite manning two hallway booths and a store at once, he said he's barely making it.
"I am thinking of leaving if it's not going to happen very soon. It's impossible," he said. "You need something big. Food and a big store, and then the mall will be OK again."
The other side of the mall has Target, Dick's Sporting Goods and the Regal cinemas, all of which draw crowds. But many customers don't walk to the other side of the mall, where more mom-and-pop stores are located.
Those who walked out of Sears on Thursday afternoon said they mostly used the store for its convenient entrance from the parking lot.
"I'm just walking through," said Queensbury resident John Schiavoni. "When they have their Christmas specials, I buy tools, but that's about it."
He blames online purchasing for the closing of the store.
"I think Amazon is putting a big crush on malls," he said. "What I find ironic is 30 years ago the malls killed downtowns, and now Amazon is killing the malls."
But not every big box store is suffering. And some customers said they are eager to buy things in person.
"I like going in person so you can see what it looks like," said Maggie Palmer, 11, of Auburn. She bought pajamas at Sears on Thursday.
Her friend Bella Dennis, also 11 and from Auburn, said she doesn't like the selection at Sears.
"But I love malls. I like shopping a lot," she said.
The closure announcement came as a shock to at least one employee at the Sears store. She found out when customer Joe Simpson of Brant Lake broke the news.
"She's elderly, like us. She's not going to find another job," Simpson said. His wife added that the employee whispered that she would lose her house if she lost her job.
"I feel bad for her," Simpson said. "It's a shame. Sears is like apple pie."
Sears Holdings announced the closing of 33 Sears stores and 13 Kmart stores across the country, and the Queensbury Sears store is on the list. The Kmart stores in Queensbury and Greenwich, and Sears in Wilton Mall, are not on the closure list, however.
The Sears store at Aviation Mall has been in a slow retrenchment for several years, closing its vision center last year and virtually eliminating its electronics department. It is the second anchor store at Aviation Mall to close in a year, with Bon-Ton closing its store in April.
There was no outward indication at the store Thursday morning, before it opened for the day, that it was closing. In fact, a sign on the front door indicated it was "hiring."
The financially struggling company has announced at least three rounds of store closures over the past year as it deals with dropping revenue. Earlier this summer, it announced 78 store closings.
The company had nearly 900 stores in operation as of May.