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plans to acquire 18 former


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department stores and 10 freestanding auto centers in a deal the retail giant expects to complete by mid-April.

In December,

Montogomery Ward

said it would

cease operations. The company is currently operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Terms of the Sears transaction weren't disclosed.

Sears plans to remodel and reopen the retail stores by the spring of 2002. Fourteen of the locations will become Sears stores, with three of them having auto centers attached. The

Wards Automotive Centers

will be converted to

Sears Auto Centers


Additionally, Sears said it could potentially serve 2.4 million former Wards service contract customers under an agreement with

Aon Innovative Solutions

. Sears will also acquire certain assets of Wards' national repair business,

A&E Signature Service


Shares of Sears lost 38 cents, or 1.1%, to $34.39 in recent

New York Stock Exchange