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Sears files Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as company continues buckling

Sears has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, buckling under its massive debt load and staggering losses.

Sears once dominated the American retail landscape. But the big question is whether the shrunken version of itself can be viable or will it be forced to go out of business, closing the final chapter for an iconic name that originated more than a century ago.

Holdings will also close 142 unprofitable stores near the end of the year. Liquidation sales at these stores are expected to begin shortly. This is in addition to the previously announced closure of 46 unprofitable stores that is expected to be completed by November 2018.

The company, which started out as a mail order catalog in the 1880s, has been on a slow march toward extinction as it lagged far behind its peers and has incurred massive losses over the years. The operator of Sears and Kmart stores joins a growing list of retailers that have filed for bankruptcy or liquidated in the last few years amid a fiercely competitive climate. Some like Payless ShoeSource have had success emerging from reorganization in bankruptcy court but plenty of others haven’t, like Toys R Us and Bon-Ton Stores Inc. Both retailers were forced to shutter their operations this year soon after a Chapter 11 filing.

“This is a company that in the 1950s stood like a colossus over the American retail landscape,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. “Hopefully, a smaller new Sears will be healthier.”

Given its sheer size, Sears’ bankruptcy filing will have wide ripple effects on everything from already ailing landlords to its tens of thousands of workers.

Edward S. Lampert has stepped down from his role as CEO of the company, effective immediately. He will remain chairman of the board. The company’s board has created an Office of the CEO, which will be responsible for managing day-to-day operations during this process.

The filing, which is happening ahead of the crucial holiday shopping season, comes after rescue efforts engineered by Lampert have kept it outside of bankruptcy court – until now.

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