Sears, the department store that was nearly synonymous with American retail, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October. Across the country, the company has shuttered more than 100 stores in the past three years. Many of those stores have since sat vacant, as few other retailers need or want that big of a physical footprint these days. One, though, may be waiting in the wings: Whole Foods.
Now owned by Amazon, Whole Foods is apparently considering moving into some of those defunct Sears and Kmart stores (both have been owned by Sears Holdings since 2005). Yahoo Finance reports that Amazon is looking at sites previously owned by Sears/Kmart as potential homes for new Whole Foods locations: “Sears’s national footprint spreads across the country and covers a broad demographic, which can help Whole Foods scale up fast at a relatively lower cost.” Not only are former Sears’ locations located near relatively high population centers, they also likely have established parking lots. And it’s hard to imagine that those buildings command too high a price tag after sitting vacant for years.
Landlords are also eager to bring in grocery stores to larger shopping areas, Neil Saunders of GlobalData tells Yahoo Finance, because grocery stores generate lots of foot traffic. This has been true in my own city of Missoula, Montana, where the local mall—which has seen department stores go under in recent years—lauded the arrival of a new Lucky’s Market attached to the mall. Prior to that grocery store, I hardly ever visited the mall. Now, I find myself shopping for groceries there a few times each month.
While the attention Amazon/Whole Foods is paying to Sears properties is still speculative, it does seem to be a tidy metaphor for American retail in 2019. Gone are the days when your parents would head to Sears to look at vacuums or washing machines; now, we buy almost everything we could need online, dragging our digitally tethered selves to a brick-and-mortar only when we need a chia-seed smoothie or fresh-ground nut butter. And if grocery delivery takes over as has been predicted, perhaps we’ll have no use for grocery stores at all.