Long before Wal-Mart, Amazon, Target, Best Buy and other competitors, there was always Sears.
Founded in the late 1800s as a mail-order resource for farmers, with the advent of the American shopping mall Sears became a ubiquitous anchor store, known for Craftsman tools, Toughskins jeans, Kenmore appliances, DieHard batteries and selling just about everything from mattresses to jewelry.
Kmart likewise traces its roots to the waning days of the 19th century, when the S.S. Kresge Co. was founded. The first Kmart opened in 1962, the same year as the first Walmart store, and in 1995 the home of the "blue light special" acquired Sears in an $11 billion buyout.
But in recent years the retail giants have faltered. With Tuesday's announcement of disappointing quarterly sales of consumer electronics and other goods, Sears Holdings Corp. announced that it will close between 100 and 120 Kmart and Sears stores -- more than one of every nine full-line stores in operation.
Will any of the three Sears and three Kmart stores in the Charleston tri-county region be among the casualties? That's an open question, as Sears Holdings has not identified specific locations that will close.
The comments of Sears and Kmart customers across the region illustrate the challenges the stores face, and their strengths.
At Citadel Mall, where Sears is an anchor store, customer Katelyn Mock, of Charleston, said she rarely shops at Sears and thinks the store's prices are too high. She bought some half-price Christmas ornaments there Tuesday, after finding that several other stores in the mall had sold out.
Mock, who plans to buy a home in the next year, is just the sort of customer Sears needs -- one who will likely be buying big-ticket items, such as home appliances. But she doubts she will buy appliances at Sears.
"I think my mom has," Mock said.
Another customer, Jackie Scheub of Hollywood, said she would miss Sears if it were to go away. She regularly makes the long drive from her home to Citadel Mall because of a Sears deal called the KidVantage Club, which guarantees free replacement of clothes and shoes if they wear out before children outgrow them.
"I buy all of my granddaughter's clothes here because of the KidVantage Club," Scheub said. "I like Sears for that reason."
The Citadel Mall location is one of two Sears stores that anchor local shopping malls. The other is at Northwoods Mall. The third regional full-line Sears location is a Sears Grand store on Ladson Road in Summerville, which already was slated to become a Kmart store in March, before Tuesday's announcement.
Regional Kmart stores are located on Savannah Highway in West Ashley, on Bowman Road in Mount Pleasant and on Rivers Avenue in North Charleston.
The aging, 130,000-square-foot Big Kmart in Mount Pleasant is located in a shopping center where many of the adjacent storefronts are empty. The 17-acre shopping center was sold early this year in a $5.5 million deal, and Mount Pleasant has identified the site as one of several that could be suitable for a new town municipal complex.
Lynn Kornya of Mount Pleasant was shopping at the Big Kmart on Tuesday, and she said the store's location is about the only reason she shops there.
"What brings me to Kmart is that it's close to my house," Kornya said. "It's closer than Walmart or those other places."
Sears Holdings said its past practice has been to keep "marginally performing stores" open while trying to improve them. But the company doesn't plan to do that any longer. The store closings will reduce the company's fixed costs and inventory by hundreds of millions of dollars.
"We intend to accentuate our focus and resources to our better-performing stores with the goal of converting their customer experience into a world-class integrated retail experience," the company said in a news release.
Which stores are among the marginally performing? Sears Holdings hasn't said when it will produce a list.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552.