A punch and jab to Upper Darby: Sears, jewelry shop closing

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The Sears store, an Upper Darby fixture in the 69th Street shopping corridor for three decades, is one of dozens of stores that the retailer plans to close. The Pottstown Sears store is another.

For an iconic American department store or the small jewelry shop owned by an immigrant family two blocks away, this was not a good week for retail along 69th Street in Upper Darby.

Sears Holdings Corp. said Tuesday that it would close up to 120 stores nationwide and said Thursday that the branch at 150 S. 69th St. was among them. The Pottstown Sears store is also closing.

"Poor performance," Sears spokeswoman Kim Freely said of all locations chosen, without details, including when doors would shut for good.

Two employees in the Upper Darby Sears declined comment, and the manager on duty Friday would not give his name, but there was disappointment and surprise all around.

Mahbuba Zaman, who came to Philadelphia with her family 11 years ago from Bangladesh, is closing her family's Fashion Choice jewelry store nearby.

"Why are they doing it?" she said Friday afternoon, referring to Sears in a somewhat rhetorical answer to the question of why she was closing. "It's the economy. From 2008, business is down 50 percent. It's been down, down, down, and 2011 was the worst."

Though an Upper Darby Township official estimated that about 30 people worked at Sears on 69th Street, Sears officials, locally and nationally, would not give a figure. Freely said they could apply for openings at other Sears stores or accept severance, if they qualify.

Sisters Estela and Paulina Merino, who live in West Philadelphia, exited the store with their children after buying shoes and sheets.

"I think it is busy enough," Estela said.

"They have everything," Paulina said. "Wal-Mart is cheaper, but the quality is not as good."

Upper Darby Township and Delaware County business leaders were surprised by the Sears announcement but mounted an economic defense.

"The Delaware County Chamber of Commerce is dismayed by the announcement of the pending closure of the Sears store in Upper Darby," said chamber board chairman Domenick Savino, chief executive officer of Drexelbrook Catering & Corporate Events. "For three decades, Sears has served as an anchor for the 69th Street shopping district corridor and helped to bring shoppers and merchants to the area. The Upper Darby 69th Street shopping district is still a vibrant shopping corridor."

Savino and Upper Darby Township chief administrative officer Tom Judge both noted that Ross Stores Inc. has committed to renovating and opening a store at South 69th and Chestnut Streets.

"I'd like another midsize anchor store and a major restaurant chain," Judge said when asked for a wish list. "Upper Darby is a melting pot, and different ethnic organizations make it unique. Ethnic stores of all sorts work harmoniously. I'd like to find another organization to allow that cooperation to flourish."

The area has gotten more diverse in recent years.

Besides Zaman's store, across the street from Sears and next to the McDonald's restaurant, is the Golden Krust, a Caribbean bakery and grill. The menu had goat curry, and the smells were sumptuous. The woman behind the counter was surprised to hear about the Sears closing but declined comment.

The future will be challenging.

"The Turf Club closed, so that's two big vacant buildings," said Rich Jennings, manager of the Alliance Bank across the street. The Turf Club was an offtrack betting parlor in the same block. "Sears has been here a long time, and it's sad to see people losing jobs."

The site that will be the home for Ross Stores is currently occupied by a Marshalls store, but that is scheduled to close Jan. 14.

Sonny Williams, 58, sat on a bench outside the Sears store Thursday afternoon. He said he served in the military in Vietnam and, after pointing to his cane, mentioned he survives on disability.

Williams knew that Alvah C. Roebuck was the inventor in the pair that founded Sears, Roebuck & Co. in 1887. Williams said he had been coming to the 69th Street Sears for 30 years.

"From A to Z, Sears had everything," Williams said. "Selling a franchise like that is crazy. I came to buy some bib overalls before they die."

 


For the list of 79 Sears and Kmart stores to close, go to www.philly.com/sears


Contact staff writer David Sell

at 215-854-4506 or dsell@phillynews.com.