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Shoppers enter the Sears store at the Santa Maria Town Center mall on Thursday, the same day corporate owner Transformco announced the location is targeted for closure by February.

The Sears store in Santa Maria Town Center is one of 51 scheduled for closure by February 2020, according to an announcement from Transformco, which purchased virtually all assets of Sears Holdings Corp. in February.

Reports circulating Thursday said the Santa Maria store was closing its doors that day, but a woman who answered the phone in the Sears management office said that wasn’t true.

“No, we’re not closing our doors today,” she said. “We’re not closing and we have no target [date] for closing.”

However, the announcement from Transformco said going-out-of-business sales are expected to begin Dec. 2 at the targeted stores.

Transformco said it also will close 45 Kmart stores but will continue to operate 182 locations of the two retail brands, and online sales will continue through sears.com and kmart.com.

The Santa Maria Kmart already closed in March and was sold to U-Haul for $6.5 million, and mall officials said in April the 108,596-square-foot, two-story Sears building also is for sale.

Sears Optical at the Santa Maria store closed more than a year ago.

The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce expressed disappointment in the company’s decision.

“We are disappointed that the owners of Sears have made the decision to leave our community, where they have had a loyal and supportive customer base,” said Glenn Morris, president and CEO of the chamber.

But he said the chamber’s Economic Development team will work with the building owners, the Town Center management and the city to locate potential new tenants for the space.

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Suzanne Singh, the chamber’s Economic Development director, noted the city’s retail sector continues to grow and expressed confidence her team can locate companies who see Sears’ closure as an opportunity to expand or enter the regional market.

“We have a great relationship with the management team at the Town Center and have found them to be very community-oriented, so we will work with them to find a solution that works well for the Santa Maria Valley,” Singh added.

Mark van de Kamp, public information manager for Santa Maria, said the announced closure came as no surprise but shouldn’t reflect on the city’s healthy retail business community.

“The local Sears store dates back to 1975 when it was one of the original anchor stores at Town Center East,” van de Kamp said. “It has been a familiar part of downtown for decades.

“The closure announcement is unfortunate for the employees and for the region, but everyone should realize that Santa Maria continues to see growth in retail activity,” he continued.

The closure is not unexpected because of the company’s bankruptcy and waves of numerous store closures the past few years, including the Santa Barbara Sears closure" he said. "The Santa Maria Kmart closed earlier this year, as it was also part of the Sears Holdings Corp."

Transformco said since it purchased the Sears Holdings Corp. assets, it had “faced a difficult retail environment and other challenges” but had been focusing on the company’s “competitive strengths and pruning operations that have struggled due to increased competition and other factors.”

The owners and a third-party investor recently gave the company a $250 million infusion of cash to prop up the company’s efforts to find success, but Transformco still had to make “the difficult but necessary decision to streamline our operations” by closing the 96 Sears and Kmart stores.

The company said it would provide all eligible associates with the same number of weeks of severance offered to employees of Sears Holdings Corp. prior to October 2018.

But the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce is already working to help the employees find jobs.

“Our first concern is to provide support for the employees of the store and [we] have begun working with the Workforce Development Board to identify resources that can be made available to help these individuals find new jobs right away,” Morris said.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.