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MONDAY, Oct. 22 — Sears shopper Kim Larner just picked up a new pair of boots for the winter.
“I just waited in line for 20 minutes, and every single person asked them when they are closing their doors,” Larner said. “They told them, ‘We’re not. We are one of the top 25 performing stores in the nation. It is a reorganization of funds and not necessarily that all of them are shutting down.’”
That’s good news for Larner, who has nostalgic memories of the store.
“I remember an old style candy shop where you bought bulk candies between clothes and appliances,” she said.
She used to come in with her dad and gaze at the candy while he shopped for tools.
“Because he would buy a little bit for us, we were always happy to come to Sears.”
Opened in 1954 as the cornerstone of the Frandor Shopping Center, Lansing’s Sears is not on Sears Holdings’ 142 store closures list issued last week after it declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This was in addition to 46 stores ordered to close in August. Sears closures in Michigan include the Ann Arbor, Lincoln Park, Charlevoix and Lake Orion stores.
The Frandor Sears looks healthy: Displays are stocked, customers weave through coat racks and there’s a long line at checkout. Vintage style signs of the Sears’ original cursive logo hang in the aisles declaring “125 Years of Sears.”
Former Frandor Sears employee Barbara Harris worked for 27 years in multiple departments. Retiring in 2009, she manages the Frandor Sears retiree group, which meets once a year for a picnic at Frances Park.
“Years and years ago, the supervisor told me our rent was only 1 percent of our profits,” Harris said. “I was there in ‘85 when we had a hot air balloon to celebrate the 100 year anniversary.”
The bankruptcy news didn’t come as a shock for Harris.
“You could see it coming. If you looked in the parking lot, you couldn't see any cars. I remember when there wouldn't a single space available in the parking lot.”
Harris believes the combination of competition from Walmart and corporate mismanagement contributed to a slow decline starting in the late ‘80s.
“The CEOs restructured the company so they could make more money.”
Instead of giving salesman salary plus commission, the company switched to minimum wage with commission, she said.
“I knew people who had been there for 40 years, and most of them quit because of the new paying structure.”
The quality of items started to decline as well, she added.
“Craftsman tools had a lifetime warranty, and when people came in to replace them, the tools they got back weren’t as high quality as the original.”
Despite the troubles with corporate and restructuring, Harris said working at Sears was a good job.
“The people were close. We would have Christmas parties and they would bring in catered food,” Harris said. “We would have luncheons and a cafeteria in the early days where you bought whatever you wanted. We'd play cards every lunch hour. You got to be friends with people there.”
The Gillespie Group has owned the property for the better part of the decade.
“We’ve owned the property for around eight years,” said Pat Gillespie, founder and president of the Gillespie Group. “Sears has been in the news for a year or so, but we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
The Frandor Sears is personal to Gillespie, who grew up on Lasalle Gardens Street — a stone’s throw away from the retailer.
“My grandpa sold appliances there. We used to buy our Toughskins lawn equipment and get candy from the counters,” Gillespie said. “We plan on Sears being there; we hope they make it.”