NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I've passed by it hundreds of times, yet had no idea it was still even open. This massive Sears Holdings (SHLD) building in East Los Angeles just off the 5, 10 and 101 freeways. It's an icon. Wholly nostalgic. And, sadly, another reason for investors to run away from Sears stock unless they're privy to CEO Eddie Lampert's games.
Whether you're an investor or non-investor reader, I urge you to see all four pages of this article. It's all quite apropos to this ongoing conversation about the sorry state of physical retail and keeps getting "better" and more downright strange bordering on bizarre and sad as you go.
It's a dump, yes. Just like so many other Sears stores. But it's a dump with some history, quirks and a future. Or so it seems. I'll tie it together with words and pictures. But it's best to tell the story in no particular order. In fact, I'll go backwards.
Here's an outline:
- On Page Two: The things I saw as I left this Sears store, which speak to the schizophrenic nature of the corporation. It's one thing, but purports to be another. There might not be a bigger disconnect in all of business than the one between Sears's reality and what the company thinks it is.
- On Page Three: The dumpy conditions inside this East LA Sears.
- On Page Four: The weirdness starts when you enter what might be the most unorthodox retail outlet ever. And, while there's good reason for it to be unorthodox, Sears doesn't use the situation to its advantage. Yet again, it mails it in.
The interesting thing about this Sears is that, according to CurbedLA, the company erected the building in 1927 as one of nine mail-order retail distribution centers built between 1910 and the Great Depression. We're talking 1.8 million square feet of space. Twenty-three acres. But now the blood no longer flows to the tip. Everything above the ground-floor retail Sears store sits abandoned, awaiting mixed-use redevelopment. Sears, if it makes it through project approval and the two years or so it will take to build the refurbished structure, can remain; it has about 90 years left on a lease it signed a few years ago.
A bit like the sad situation in Oakland -- that, apparently, has been at least partially resolved -- we have Sears operating in an area where it once thrived, but now acts as a poster child for retail patheticism.
I vouch for everything "Lady J" says, from the store's "gross" aura to the employees' unfortunate (collective) situation to the history at this place. The Sears I grew up with still functions in what is a largely abandoned mall in Niagara Falls, New York. It's a shell of what it once was. I, too, remember visiting that place as a kid with my mother picking up catalog purchases in the mail order department.
Sears wasn't nimble. Now it doesn't seem to care. That's a national tragedy.
That's the sign you see as you leave this East LA Sears.
I guess it's there to reinforce the signage you see when you walk in the store:
This isn't goodbye because, of course, you can always find Sears online. At the link, you get a not-so-subtle peek into the culture at Sears these days. We leave our real estate and leased operations to wither away as blight because we're focused on our feeble Amazon.com (AMZN) knockoff of a loyalty/rewards program.
Or maybe This isn't goodbye because you'll be back. But that can't be it. As the Yelp review and the images you'll see on Page Three make clear nobody with a choice in the matter would ever set foot in this Sears more than once. It's just not a pleasant experience. Some of the stuff I saw on the way out just drove home the stark distinction between what Sears was, what it is and, at least in some corners of the organization, what it thinks it is today.
That's on the wall on the way to the restrooms, back offices and other assorted cogs of the Sears East LA machine.
That's a classic door, straight out of a courthouse or old-time police station.
Solid message posted on the way into what I presume is a Sears back office (or maybe groups of motivational speakers or some such use this space; I dunno). But if that is the property of Sears, I can only respond with THIS.
OK. Now the fun begins on Page Three with even more unkempt displays at Sears. But hey, even as we find more and more examples, this, according to Sears' corporate communications isn't representative of the company's 2,000 stores.
But before we get to the heavy duty ... some folks argue that I (and TheStreet's Brian Sozzi) haven't been fair to Sears. That some of the images we publish are merely store resets in progress. Even though that's no excuse, here's some signage I saw that indicated a reset alongside disrepair (be sure to read the memo):
There's probably something to that I just don't understand. Either way, it still looks like crap. As does this and this and this and this and this ...
In all fairness, we just had a heatwave. But I don't think there was a rush on stuffed animals.
On Page Four, walking into what might be the oddest retail outlet in America ...
The weirdness at the East LA Sears starts, however, right as you make your approach and enter the building. Some of this is simply charming. But some of it also smacks of missed opportunity, a lack of creativity and pure apathy and neglect.
Through the entrance down a long hallway full of randomness, ranging from Sears Optical to grills oddly placed in the now-closed "Portrait Studio" and a "clearance" sale.
This room, like the ones above, is off of the hallway that separates the entrance from the escalators to the main floor of Sears. And it must be the loneliest room in all of retail. Who would go in there? This strange, dark, nondescript box in a soulless, barely populated corridor with mattresses spread across the floor. Hardly inviting. Just plain weird. I'd almost feel unsafe in there.
--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.