PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Aroostook Centre Mall is losing a major retailer with Wednesday’s announcement that Sears, including the auto center, will close its doors by mid-January.
The 63 employees at the Presque Isle Sears store learned of the decision during a staff meeting Wednesday morning, according to Assistant Store Manager Don Gibson.
“We are closing,” Gibson said Wednesday afternoon. “The district management staff was in the building this morning to let the store staff know.”
No other Sears or Kmart stores in Maine are slated for closing at this time, according to Howard Riefs, director of corporate communications for Sears Holdings Corp., the parent company of both Sears and Kmart subsidiaries.
The Presque Isle store will begin a liquidation sale on Oct. 31 with the final day of operation tentatively set for Jan. 18, Gibson said.
“We turn over the keys to the [building] owners Jan. 31,” he added.
“Store closures are 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,” Riefs said in an email on Wednesday. “These actions will better enable us to focus our investments on serving our customers and members through integrated retail – at the store, online and in the home.”
Describing the mood of co-workers in the store on Wednesday as shocked, Gibson said, “It was a surprise to us, yeah. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.”
Employees who are eligible will receive severance and have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Sears or Kmart stores, according to Riefs.
One of seven “anchor stores,” the loss of the retailer would be a blow to the Aroostook Centre Mall, according to mall manager Patty Crooks, who said Wednesday afternoon she had not received any official notification of Sears closing.
According to Crooks, the remaining “anchors” are Kmart, Staples, Dollar Tree, Ruby Tuesday, Lowe’s and J.C. Penney.
“Retail is tough,” Crooks said. “We are in the sixth year of a national funk that has been tough on [Aroostook] County, but we are always optimistic, hanging in there and looking for opportunities to move ahead.”
The two remaining Aroostook County Sears stores, in Fort Kent and Houlton, are independently owned.
Sears similarly announced in July 2013 that it planned to close its Presque Isle store in October 2013. But that decision was reversed about a week after it was announced when a deal over the store’s lease was struck between Sears Holdings and the Aroostook Centre Mall.
Crooks declined to comment on specifics of the most recent announcement until she receives official notification.