One of the top headlines Tuesday morning was that Sears is closing up to 120 stores (including Kmarts).
The company hasn’t yet released the list of locations to be shuttered, but I think we should assume that Provo’s store in the Towne Center Mall will be one of them. If it isn’t closing now, it surely will be in the not-too-distant future.
This should be obvious to anyone who has visited the store lately. Despite being located in a mall, the store feels like the Wal-Mart that time forgot. Its a mess, and there are almost never any people inside. A few weeks ago Laura had to pick up some supplies for school and we went to Sears. Though it was the middle of the busiest shopping season of the year, we only saw five other customers. The two sales associates that we encountered were actually exercising on elliptical machines. It was bizarre.
The merchandise at Sears is also terrible. Either it’s available elsewhere for cheaper, or it extremely low quality. I once tried to find a sweat shirt there and discovered that all their clothing — which should be the bread and butter of a mall department store — appears to have been assembled by blind apes. While trying on clothes, I could feel myself developing body image issues with every glance in the mirror.
The point is that Sears is a company in ruin, and the Provo location is a particularly bad iteration of the fallen giant. I cannot fathom how the Provo location could be profitable, and analysts are not optimistic about the company’s future.
The point is that the store can’t last, and Provo needs to be thinking about its exit strategy.
Probably the most obvious strategy is to consolidate Utah County’s two malls. University Mall is about to lose its second anchor — Nordstrom — leaving it with one department store — Macy’s — and two empty anchor spaces. Provo’s Towne Center Mall currently has all three anchor spaces filled, but the down-market Sears is struggling and likely to vacate at some point.
So Macy’s ought to relocate to the Towne Center Mall. Orem officials would hate this idea, but without two anchors the University Mall has essentially failed. This plan would be a overall benefit to the county as a whole, as it would create one really strong mall, as opposed to what we have now: two extremely sad and depressing retail spaces that appear destined for ruin.
This plan should be an easy sell to Macy’s. Provo’s mall is located next to the freeway and has high visibility, and is more modern. Relocating to Provo would also give Macy’s the benefit of avoiding isolation in Orem.
Relocating Macy’s won’t happen automatically, however, and city and commercial leaders need to actively work to make this a reality. I’d argue that even if Provo’s Sears isn’t put on the chopping block, city leaders should ask to close it; the store can’t be generating much sales tax and it’s frankly dragging then entire mall down.
Perhaps trying to save either of these malls is useless. Malls, after all, are generally considered to be in decline and both of the ones in Utah County were alarmingly vacant during the holiday season. But with aggressive planning and consolidation, we should yet be able to squeeze a fair amount of life out of these behemoths.