Sears more than a century ago pioneered the strategy of selling everything to everyone.
But it has long since given up that mantle as a retail innovator. It was overtaken first by big-box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot, and then by Amazon, as the go-to shopping destinations for clothing, tools and appliances.
Now, the retailer is preparing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing to cut its debts and keep operating at least through the holidays, according to two people briefed on the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the company's plans.
As part of the reorganization plan Sears will receive a loan of more than $500 million to help keep its shelves stocked and employees paid, these people said. The company is also planning to close as many as 150 additional stores as it tries to reduce costs and find some way forward.
Late Sunday, sources told news outlets including Reuters, CNBC and the New York Post that the filing was expected late Sunday or today.
In the past decade, Sears had been run by a hedge-fund manager, Edward Lampert, who sold off many of the company's valuable properties and brands, but failed to develop a winning strategy to entice consumers who increasingly shop online.
The result has been a long, painful decline. A decade ago, the company employed 302,000 people. Today, there are about 68,000 people still working at Sears and Kmart, which Lampert also runs.
Founded shortly after the Civil War, the original Sears, Roebuck & Co. built a catalog business that sold Americans the latest dresses, toys, build-it-yourself houses and even tombstones. In their heyday, the company's stores, which began to spread across the country in the early 20th century, were showcases for must-have washing machines, snow tires and furniture.
More recently, Sears became known for another distinction -- Lampert's feats of financial engineering. He has spun off numerous assets from the retailer into separate companies that his hedge fund invests in.
While many of these spinoffs have flourished, Sears has slid toward insolvency.
During the past five years, the company lost about $5.8 billion, and over the past decade, it closed more than 1,000 stores. Many of the 700 stores that remain have frequent clearance sales, empty shelves and handwritten signs.
Sears stores remain the centerpiece of hundreds of shopping centers across the United States and their decline has reduced traffic to many of those malls.
Running low on cash, the company has a $134 million debt payment due today. Its total debt stood at about $5.6 billion in late September.
Over the weekend, a group of banks was negotiating with Sears over the terms of a new loan totaling more than $500 million, the people briefed on the matter said.
The company started out selling watches to railroad agents in 1886 and soon expanded into a vast mail-order business that sold clothing, tools, shoes and, at one point, even cocaine and opium, through catalogs that ran as long as 1,000 pages.
Sears Roebuck was, in many ways, an early version of Amazon. It used the Postal Service to reach the most remote parts of a growing nation and stored and shipped products from a 3 million-square-foot warehouse in Chicago.
After World War II, Sears stores served the needs of the country's expanding middle class. Families went there to have their children's portraits taken, to get their tires rotated and oil changed and to buy Kenmore refrigerators.
As many as 100,000 retired Sears employees receive pensions, which are expected to emerge largely unscathed in the bankruptcy. As the company was bleeding cash and selling off assets in recent years, federal regulators required Lampert to inject cash into the pension plan. Other benefits for retirees like life insurance, however, could be in danger.
By the 1990s, Sears was struggling to find its place. Walmart was opening supercenters across the United States. Home Depot was taking away market share on appliances and power tools, but Sears had valuable brands like Kenmore, DieHard and Lands' End, and stores in prime locations.
Things changed dramatically when Lampert arrived on the scene.
A hedge-fund manager who got his start at Goldman Sachs and had little experience running a large retail chain, Lampert took control of Kmart after it came out of bankruptcy in 2003 and then acquired Sears a year later.
Lampert says his strategy was to move the company away from its brick-and-mortar legacy into the digital era.
His plan was to use the money saved from closing stores and selling off assets to reinvest in the business. But the company never gained traction online.
A Section on 10/15/2018
Print Headline: Bankruptcy filing said near for Sears