Staff photo by Mike Pare / Shoppers walk from the Northgate Mall parking lot to the center in front of the Sears store.
It's way too early in the process to say what might occur with that space.

Cathy Kilgore said Friday it was heartbreaking to learn that the Sears at Northgate Mall will close early next year, leaving Chattanooga without a full-service store by the retailer after some 90 years.

"It's where I got my engagement ring," said the Chattanooga woman who guessed that she has been a Sears shopper for some four decades.

What's next for the Northgate Mall Sears store is unclear as the site is owned by the company and not mall operator CBL Properties.

"It's way too early in the process to say what might occur with that space," said Stacey Keating of Chattanooga-based CBL. "It's too early to speculate."

Sears Holding Co. announced Thursday it is closing another 40 Sears and Kmart stores in early 2019 "to accelerate its strategic transformation and facilitate its financial restructuring." Among the stores will be the Hixson location, which had opened not long after Northgate Mall did in 1972.

Just last month, Sears revealed it was shutting its Hamilton Place mall store, which was an original anchor. Sears filed for bankruptcy in October after years of struggling against online retailers, discount chains and boutique stores.

At Hamilton Place, CBL earlier bought the Sears store and nearby property. A Cheesecake Factory eatery is to open in December in the Sears parking lot, which is CBL's first redevelopment move with the property.

The Sears store and its lots also could hold medical offices, a hotel and more eateries, according to CBL. Officials additionally have talked with the Dave & Buster's restaurant chain.

At Northgate, Keating called the store site "a good piece of real estate" that sits in a growing area.

At 179,000 square feet, the two-level Sears is the biggest single store at the Hixson mall, she said. A JCPenney store, at 173,000 square feet and already closed, is the second biggest.

CBL has made investments in Northgate since it purchased it earlier this decade.

Keating noted that it bought the Sears automotive center outparcel at the mall when it acquired the Hamilton Place store. Two new restaurants, Panda Express and Aubrey's, are under construction next to Northgate Mall.

Still, outside of the Sears Northgate outlet on Friday, shoppers were bummed.

Beverly Willenborg of Chattanooga said it's sad to see the older, big-box stores such as Sears going away. She noted that many younger shoppers are going to other stores.

Tim Gordon of Chattanooga said he and others were "raised in Sears."

But, he said, they survived the closing of former Chattanooga department stores Miller Brothers and Loveman's. Gordon said he thinks the store will be repurposed to such uses as education or child care.

After the latest round of closings, Sears will operate fewer than 500 stores. At its peak in 2005, the 130-year-old retailer operated about 2,300 Sears brand stores and 1,600 Kmart stores.

Sears and Kmart once operated more than a dozen stores in the Chattanooga region. The last remaining Kmart in the region closed early this year in Dalton, Georgia.

Sears' first store in Chattanooga opened in the late 1920s downtown. It closed nearly 30 years ago.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.