Sears could not save Hewitt store
BY ANN GENADER
WEST MILFORD - There was excitement in April 1999 throughout the township when it was announced that Sears Hardware was going to locate in the shopping center in Hewitt, but not much reaction was heard when the store closed last year.
Stock in the store dwindled along with shoppers and people complained there were not enough employees available to help them when they had questions.
The news that Sears will live on, at least for the present time, didn’t come soon enough to keep the company’s store in Hewitt in operation.
A Tractor Supply Store has already moved into the vacated storefront and is now in full operation.
When Sears opened the store that had been shared by Five Star and Shepherd’s clothing businesses 20 years ago, Director Charles Merydith said at the time the store would specialize in hardware, part of a chain consisting of 267 stores nationwide.
The lease for the store was for 55,000 square feet and advertisements said a complete line of Sears’s products would be offered, including Craftsman tools, Weatherbeater and Easy Living Paint, Kenmore water heaters, DieHard batteries and Craftsman Lawn Equipment.
At the time, Ed Casey was chairman of the Economic Development Committee, and said he was not enamored with the idea of the Sears proposal.
“If it was a scaled-down version of Sears stores, selling some hardware, I’d say great,” Casey was quoted in a local newspaper as saying. “However, we have three stores that sell hardware. I fear that those businesses will be hurt – 44,000 square feet of Craftsman tools is going to wipe them out. What we need is what we lost – a variety store like Five Star was.”
Casey went on to say that the Sears Company made the decision independent of the EDC or the local Chamber of Commerce. He added that Sears had filed an application to join the chamber.
Jo Anne Woods, still at the West Milford Hardware Store at the corner of Marshall Hill and Union Valley Roads today, was quoted in the same article as saying that her store's plan was to compete in the best way possible.
“We will continue to do what we do best – provide our customers the best service possible,” Woods said at the time.
She said if the Ace store did not have something someone needed its employees would direct them to Five Star, Hewitt Supplies or Marshall Hill Materials. Woods said there was a good mix and there was an effort to keep the customers in town. Ace Hardware continues to operate and continues to be a busy and popular shopping place for local and shoppers from nearby areas.
Eddie Lampert, chairman and biggest shareholder for Sears, recently received tentative approval to keep the troubled 132-year-old chain store in business. Lampert, the hedge fund owner who guided Sears into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October is attempting to keep about 400 stores open.
This would save tens of thousands of jobs.
The Sears Company, that in earlier years sold everything imaginable from ladies undergarments to baby chicks, continues to face fierce competition with Amazon, Walmart, and Target who are continually in the news offering bargains for shoppers.
According to company information available on the internet, Sears’ corporate parent, also owner of Kmart had 687 stores and 68,000 employees when the filing for bankrupsy took place. At its peak in 2012 there were 4,000 stores.
Published reports said the company was hit hard during the years of declining sales.
The recession of 2007 was a problem and the business was outmatched by shifting consumer actions and strong competition. There was not a profitable years since 2010, the reports said.