GRAND CROSSING — More than 200 people will lose their jobs when two Sears stores and Sears Automotive Centers on the South Side shutter this summer — and residents said they were losing trusted places to bring their vehicles for repairs.
"Everybody knows the Internet is killing retailers and running them out of business but that does not apply to repair shops," South Shore resident Rhonda Patton said. "You can't get your car fixed over the Internet so I can't understand why they are closing the [auto] center."
The two stores at 1334 E. 79th St. and 6153 S. Western Ave. are set to close in July, but the attached Sears Automotive centers at both stores will close Saturday. That means Patton will have to drive farther if she wants to continue having her 2009 Mitsubishi serviced by Sears.
"The closest Sears Auto Center to me is way out in Ford City and I am not really feeling that drive out there," she said. "I have been bringing my cars here for years."
A spokesman for Sears said the company had to downsize in order to transform its business model.
“Retail is a competitive business. The store has been open since the 1920s [but] as the market has shifted it is no longer adequately serving the customer or the shareholder," company spokesman Howard Riefs said. "The store closure is part of a series of actions we’re taking to reduce ongoing expenses, adjust our asset base and accelerate the transformation of our business model."
The Avalon Park store and auto center combined have 45 full-time and 84 part-time employees, while the Western Avenue store and auto center have 38 full-time and 80 part-time, Riefs said.
Alexander Davis, 23, is one of those automotive employees at the Avalon Park auto center who will be out of a job.
"It does not make sense to me. This center is always busy, so I know they are making money, at least on the automotive side," said Davis, of Calumet Heights. "The first day I started here, there was a line of customers around the corner. I know business is business, but it does not look like they took into account the history of this store and what it means to the community."
Riefs said he understands the frustration that some customers may be feeling over the closure.
“These decisions are never easy because Sears appreciates being a member of the community," Riefs said.
Despite the closures, Riefs said the company owns additional property near its Western Avenue store that "could result in attractive mixed-use development."
"Sears is exploring various uses for the site. It presents viable real estate alternatives," he said.
Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), whose ward includes the Sears store on Western Avenue in Chicago Lawn, said she was not happy about the closure but was open to the possibility of seeing the site redeveloped in some way.
Ruth Latson stopped by the Avalon Park store to catch some sales Monday.
"I have been shopping here for years. I hate Walmart, so I won't be going there when Sears closes," said Latson, a Chicago Transit Authority employee. "This neighborhood is not running over with quality retail stores, which is why closing Sears will hurt the area tremendously."
Almor Massey, 70, is another regular Avalon Park Sears customer. He does all his shopping with his Sears credit card.
"Fifty years. That's how long I have been coming to this store. I'm on my way now to pay my credit card bill," Massey said. "This is the last Sears store in a black neighborhood. I always felt good shopping here for that reason."