Beleaguered giant Sears is pulling out from the historic Sodo location where it has operated for more than a century, cutting its last ties to a building complex that in better days played a critical role in its commercial conquest of the West.
A Sears spokesman said Friday that the company is laying off 79 employees — 66 who work at the store, at 76 S. Lander St., and 13 at the neighboring Sears Auto Center. Both will close to the public in early June, and a liquidation sale at the store will start April 3.
The move comes as Illinois-based Sears fights for its life in the midst of shrinking sales and mounting losses. Competition from online retailers and hipper brick-and-mortar rivals such as Target and Costco Wholesale have cut into the aging retail giant’s bottom line; store closures are part of what Sears is doing to cut expenses and overhaul its business model.
Sears’ departure is also a milestone for the historic complex, which Sears topped with a tower in 1915 to mark its massive catalog warehouse.
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According to Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry, early in the 20th century the complex was the site of Sears’ new western branch, from where it supplied the Western U.S. “with everything from underwear and alarm clocks to farm equipment and metal ceilings.”
Now the building is a landmark for a different kind of retail giant. Starbucks put its headquarters there in 1997 and added to the tower its green-and-white mermaid logo.
A Starbucks spokesman said that the company doesn’t have any plans to expand its space in the 2.1 million-square-foot development, which also houses other tenants.
There are conflicting stories about the site’s early days.
Owner Nitze-Stagen, which bought the building complex in 1990, says it was built in 1912 by Union Pacific Railroad, using heavy timbers from Yesler Mill, to lure Sears to Seattle.
An architectural review on the city of Seattle’s website says Sears in 1910 had already set up shop on Third Avenue South, but then decided to erect its own building, closer to the rail tracks.
The building first operated as a warehouse for its catalog business and an administrative office, and the retail store opened in 1925, the city says. Sears closed its mail-order business there in 1987.
There are also diverging tales about how long the existing Sears store there has been in operation.
Nitze-Stagen says on its website that Sears opened the retail store in 1925, which coincides with the information provided by the city. Nitze-Stagen called the site the oldest continuously operated Sears store in the world.
A Sears spokesman, however, said that the current store opened in January 1951. He had no information about its earlier history.
In any case, for decades the scope of the Sodo Sears outlet impressed locals such as Stan Bear, a 73-year-old resident of Shoreline who worked for Acme Fast Freight in Sodo from the early 1960s through 1982.
“Their farm store was an enormous store in its own right,” he said.
Ángel González: 206-464-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @gonzalezseattle