Nation & World

What next for Sears?

Chain's fate is on the line Monday in bankruptcy auction

A bird perches in the sign for Sears at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A bird perches in the sign for Sears at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

In its 126-year history, Sears grew to become the country’s biggest retailer and outlasted Chicago competitors such as Carson Pirie Scott, Montgomery Ward and Wieboldt’s. Its future now hinges on a bankruptcy auction scheduled to start Monday.

Edward Lampert, chairman and former CEO of Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings Corp., is trying to buy the retailer with a plan to keep it in business and keep up to 50,000 workers employed.

Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments, sweetened its offer for Sears this week, bringing the total value of its proposal to more than $5 billion.

But some of Sears’ creditors are skeptical of ESL, and it’s not yet known how the hedge fund’s proposal stacks up against other offers for the company’s assets.

If Lampert’s plan fails, Sears could face liquidation — the end of the road for an iconic American company, at least as consumers know it.

It’s not clear whether the company has any other offers from buyers who want to save, rather than liquidate, Sears.

An attorney representing Sears creditors told the U.S. Bankruptcy Court at a hearing Tuesday in New York that it continues to have “significant concerns” about ESL’s bid.

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Those concerns deal, in part, with financial dealings between Lampert, ESL and Sears. The creditors say those transactions “may be part of an extended pattern of conduct that served to benefit certain (insider) equity holders,” according to court filings. ESL denied those allegations.

Lampert’s ESL has said it will strive to keep Sears in business if it wins the bid. But even if the company liquidates, the Sears Home Services business or brands such as Kenmore and DieHard could live on.

ESL also has said it would bid on some pieces of the business individually.

It’s also possible that someone could buy Sears’ intellectual property and try to bring the brand back online or in bricks-and-mortar stores.

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