CALUMET CITY | The nearly 50-year-old Sears store in Calumet City's River Oaks Center is closing in early June, the company confirmed Friday.
The store's 164 associates were told of the closure Thursday, according to Sears Holdings spokesman Chris Brathwaite.
"Those associates that are eligible will receive severance and have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Sears or Kmart stores," Brathwaite said.
Most of those associates are part-time or hourly employees, he said.
Brathwaite said Friday he is unaware of plans for any other closures of Sears or Kmart stores in the region. Locally, there also are Sears department stores in Hobart and Michigan City.
"The decision to close a store is not one we take lightly because Sears appreciates being a member of the community," Brathwaite said. "However, we made a business decision to close this location."
The store opened in 1966 as one of the first anchor stores at the River Oak shopping mall. The mall, then an outdoor shopping center, was one of the first such shopping centers of its kind in the region.
Calumet City Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush characterized the closure as "disappointing."
"All the folks who are going to lose their jobs, it's just a sad scenario," Qualkinbush said.
Qualkinbush said the city learned of Sears' planned closure when it contacted the city clerk's office about a liquidation sale.
"I think Calumet City has been good to Sears, and I think we deserve to know other than with the news of the liquidation sale," Qualkinbush said.
Qualkinbush said she was upset about the closure in part because it followed nearly $150 million in tax breaks and incentives provided to Sears by the state of Illinois to help the company to stay afloat.
"I'm contacting our two state reps to see what action may be possible to force them to give the money back to the state," she said.
James Gigliotti, economic development director for Calumet City, said Sears owns the building and the land it sits on.
"We knew the property taxes were an issue," Gigliotti said, citing the large store building. "You could have 150 people shopping in there and it felt like it was empty."
Gigliotti said he met with Simon Properties, which owns River Oaks, in an effort to keep Sears in the city.
"Simon was trying to work with them," he said. "They could absolutely survive and thrive here if they had a smaller building."
Gigliotti pointed to other successes in the city following the closures of retail outlets, saying he believes the same will hold true with the loss of Sears.
"If we never lost Kohl's, we would have never gotten Sam's Club, which probably generates two to three times what Kohl's generated," Gigliotti said. "I'm confident that we will work with Simon and we will have some (tenants) there sooner than later."
Qualkinbush said the loss of Sears sends an important message to residents as well.
"I encourage residents to shop Calumet City because if you shop these stores, they're not going to close," she said. "Everyone shops online and shops in Indiana because it is two blocks away, then they're upset when the local stores leave."