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Sears closing its last store in Chicago

Sears, once a dominant retailer, had its headquarters in Chicago for decades. But the company has hit hard times, and in July, this location at Six Corners — the last Sears in the city — will close. | Heather Cherone/For the Sun-Times

Audra Nelson and her daughter Annika, 12, were in a hurry Thursday afternoon, and — as usual — headed to the Sears in the Six Corners Shopping District to pick up some new clothes.

“Sears is right around the corner, it has always been our go-to place when we are in a rush,” Nelson said.

But soon, Nelson will have to head elsewhere to do her last-minute shopping.

Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings told employees on Thursday that the store at Six Corners will close in July. The auto center will close in May.

It is the last Sears in Chicago — the city where the once-dominant retailer long had its headquarters and where it set up its revolutionary mail-order catalog business.

“I’m sad,” Nelson said. “There are stores I like better, but Sears has been an institution.”

Audra Nelson and her daughter Annika, 12, were shopping for clothes at the Six Corners Sears on Thursday. | Heather Cherone/For the Sun-Times

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The massive three-story building at 4730 W. Irving Park Road was among 265 properties sold to Seritage Growth Properties in 2015 in a sale-leaseback deal. Sears said Thursday that Seritage is exercising its right to reclaim the space.

“We have proudly served our members and customers on Chicago’s Northwest Side for the last eight decades,” Sears said in a statement.

“Although we are disappointed by this last store closure in Chicago, by no means does this change our commitment to our customers and presence to Chicago’s residents.”

One employee, who declined to give her name for fear of losing her job, said the news was a “kick in the pants.”

Sears’ Six Corners employees will be offered severance pay as well as a chance to apply for positions at other Sears or Kmart locations, company officials said.

Art Avila, 61, who shops at Sears once or twice a week, will also be sad to see the store close.

“There are always so many items on clearance,” Avila said. “I live two blocks away, and it is good enough for me. I don’t want to see it close.”

Art Avila, 61, hauls home his purchases from the Six Corners Sears on Thursday. | Heather Cherone/For the Sun-Times

When Sears opened its store at Six Corners on Oct. 20, 1938, more than 99,500 customers poured into its aisles — it was the first Sears to be air conditioned, according to news reports.

Ald. John Arena (45th) said he had mixed emotions about Sears’ announcement.

“It has been an iconic part of Six Corners,” Arena said. “But there has been a long holding of breath as the company struggled. At least there is now certainty about this site.”

His office has yet to receive a proposal for the property’s future from Seritage.

“I’ll be optimistic that we will get to a place that meets the standards we have established for Six Corners.”

Six Corners sign at intersection of Irving Park Road and Cicero and Milwaukee avenues. Sears store is in background,

Six Corners, once a prime shopping destination, had seen some positive developments lately. But hopes took a hit Thursday with the news that the Sears store at the intersection (in background), the last Sears in the city, is closing. | Heather Cherone/For the Sun-Times

In August, the Sears store on Lawrence Avenue in Lincoln Square closed, and plans promptly surfaced to gut the building and transform it into 59 apartments, 91 parking spaces and 30,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) backed the plan, settling the question of its future quickly.

Arena has endorsed a similar concept, which preserves the main building while redeveloping the parking lot and surrounding buildings into retail space.

But Arena and nearby business owners had hoped that as one of the few remaining department stores on the Northwest Side — where shoppers can pick up everything from baby goods to underwear and a washer and dryer — the Sears would hold on for awhile longer.

“Sears has been a mainstay of the Six Corners community for decades and will certainly be missed,” Six Corners Association executive director Kelli Wefenstette said.

Maria Morales and her son, Alexander, shopping at the Sears store in the Portage Park neighborhood.

Maria Morales and her son, Alexander, shop at the Six Corners Sears on Thursday, the same day company officials announced it will close. | Heather Cherone/For the Sun-Times

Efforts to restore a measure of Six Corners’ former glory as the premier shopping district outside the Loop have been stymied by the uncertain fate of several high-profile properties in limbo, including the soon-to-be-former Sears.

The main building should be preserved and transformed for the next 80 years, Wefenstette said.

Nelson said she was curious about what will replace Sears.

“Whatever it is, I hope it rejuvenates the area,” Nelson said. “I suppose things have to change.”