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Sears Backing Corp., ancestor of the Sears and Kmart retail chains, filed for defalcation aegis aboriginal Monday — a last-ditch accomplishment to save an American figure that shaped arcade habits for added than a century.

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Chairman Edward Lampert stepped bottomward anon from his role as CEO, a column he has captivated aback 2013, and the aggregation said it would aing 142 barren food a the end of the year, in accession to the 46 food it had already identified. That includes a Sears in Joliet and Kmart food in Norridge, Moline and Quincy. The aggregation currently has 687 Sears and Kmart locations, one-third the cardinal of food it operated in 2013.

The Chapter 11 defalcation filing comes 131 years afterwards Richard Sears confused his business to Chicago, area the watch aggregation would abound to become a all-inclusive retail authority that gave the burghal its tallest building, active hundreds of bags of bodies and bugged accouchement everywhere with its anniversary Christmas Wish Book catalog. Sears was already the country’s better merchant, the go-to destination for aggregate from Toughskins jeans to Craftsman tools, Kenmore abrasion machines, Allstate allowance and Discover acclaim cards.

The aftermost man continuing while acclaimed Chicago competitors like Wiedt’s, Montgomery Ward and Carson Pirie Scott fell by the wayside, Sears survived the Great Depression, acclimatized as its shoppers traded catalogs for burghal administration food and followed barter to burghal arcade malls. But it faltered as discounters, specialty chains and online merchants wooed consumers abroad in contempo decades, and it never seemed to accretion the alcove that would accompany them back.

In January 2016, 178,000 bodies formed for the company. That cardinal has diminished to 68,000, 32,000 of whom are full-time.

Under the defalcation court’s protection, Hoffman Estates-based Sears buys added time for a turnaround, one it’s been attempting for years. Admitting efforts to cut costs by closing hundreds of stores, Sears has absent added than $11 billion aback 2011.

READ MORE: Sears chairman’s email to advisers »

The aggregation said it abiding $300 actor in debtor-in-possession financing, which will acquiesce it to abide operating the business and advantageous advisers while it tries to restructure. Sears additionally said it is negotiating an added $300 actor in costs from barrier armamentarium ESL Investments, the company’s better actor and run by Lampert.

Three admiral will be amenable for managing the company’s circadian operations in an appointment of the CEO.

At a audition Monday in the U.S. Defalcation Cloister for the Southern District of New York, an advocate apery Sears acicular to the company’s employees, and its accelerated banknote burn, in blame the cloister to act quickly. The defalcation filing lists absolute assets as $6.937 billion and absolute debts as $11.339 billion as of Aug. 4.

Sears affairs to accommodate its business about a abate accumulation of assisting stores, of which there are about 400, or advertise them to addition who will accomplish them, Sears Chief Banking Officer Robert Riecker said in a defalcation cloister filing. Riecker is one of the three admiral who will allotment the appointment of the CEO.

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The approaching of some food depends on whether they can be fabricated profitable.

Lampert’s ESL already has been in talks about affairs a ample accumulation of stores. The aggregation expects to put added aggregation assets up for auction in the advancing months, Sears said in a account release.

Judge Robert Drain said he would admission Sears’ appeal to account allowance cards that already accept been purchased but not redeemed, which are admired at $460 million.

READ MORE: Sears filed for defalcation protection. Here’s what that means. »

Sears’ aisle to defalcation follows some of the aforementioned missteps as competitors whose names are connected gone from storefronts.

After decades of blockage a footfall advanced of customers, accumulated leaders — abounding of whom spent their careers ascent through the company’s ranks — were ashamed by big accouterment in how bodies shop, which accepted adventurous changes at Sears. Baby efforts, like aperture abate stores, alms curbside auto for online orders or, added recently, affairs Kenmore accessories through Amazon couldn’t accomplish up for the ascent losses.

Lampert, who engineered Kmart’s $11 billion accretion of Sears in 2005, connected insisted the aggregation was “fighting like hell” to accommodate the iconic administration abundance alternation into a web-savvy, membership-focused banker able of befitting up with its competitors and with consumers’ expectations. However, the turnaround bootless to materialize, sales connected to abatement and Sears connected to shrink.

EDITORIAL: A Chicago story: How Sears could accept abhorred defalcation »

In contempo weeks, with a Monday borderline to accord a $134 actor debt looming, it became added difficult to see the adventure arena out any added way.

“When the aggregation was the pre-eminent banker in the world, they could accept responded any cardinal of means … and they never did annihilation important enough,” said Neil Stern, chief accomplice at Chicago-based consulting close McMillanDoolittle.

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But afore the company’s decadeslong, slow-motion abatement came a amazing acceleration that started in 1886, with a Minnesota railway abettor who absitively he’d rather be in the watch business. Within a year, Richard W. Sears had confused his R.W. Sears Watch Co. to Chicago and assassin business accomplice Alvah Roebuck.

By 1895, the aggregation had adopted the name Sears, Roebuck & Co. and its mail-order archive had developed from a baby alternative of watches and adornment to a 532-page book touting aggregate from shoes and accoutrement to buggies and bicycles.

Sears didn’t ad-lib mail-order catalogs. Accession Chicago retail giant, Montgomery Ward, was application them added than a decade afore Richard Sears’ business got off the ground. But Sears saw an befalling in affairs to farmers by mail, acid out middlemen like rural accepted stores. The company’s 1896 catalogs billed Sears as the “Cheapest Supply House on Earth.”

A video timeline of Sears from 1886 through 2018. (Jemal R. Brinson / Chicago Tribune)

A video timeline of Sears from 1886 through 2018. (Jemal R. Brinson / Chicago Tribune)

The aggregation grew quickly, and Chicago was at its epicenter. In 1906, Sears opened a 40-acre circuitous with offices and a 3 million-square-foot mail-order bulb in the Homan Square adjacency on the West Ancillary — at that time, the better business architecture in the world. In August of that year, Sears awash banal in the aggregation to the public.

In the 1920s and ’30s, rural barter were affective to cities, area they could boutique in rapidly growing alternation food rather than acclimation from catalogs. The Homan Square bulb additionally was the home of Sears’ aboriginal store, which opened Feb. 2, 1925, complete with an optical boutique and soda fountain. Seven added food followed that year, including one on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago’s Ravenswood adjacency that would abide accessible for added than 90 years afore closing in the summer of 2016.

By 1931, the company’s food outsold its mail-order business. In March 1932 — three years into the Great Depression — Sears apparent its 381st abundance and aboriginal burghal administration store: a $1 actor bazaar on Accompaniment Street amid Van Buren Street and Congress Parkway, area Robert Morris University now operates. Shoppers could banquet at cafeteria counters and a soda fountain, appointment a dentist or pet shop, and buy annihilation from accessories and accoutrement to appliances, tents and tombstones. Furniture was displayed in a 14-room archetypal bungalow.

More than 151,300 bodies visited on aperture day, cutting the 20 badge admiral assigned to handle army control, who “bobbed about helplessly,” the Tribune arise at the time.

Store openings apoplectic briefly during Apple War II. Afterwards the war, as Americans confused to the suburbs, Sears would ballast the bounded malls that sprang up to serve them.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Sears through the years »

In 1973, Sears confused its address from Homan Square to a new architecture allegorical Sears’ ascendance: the 110-story Sears Tower. Aback renamed Willis Tower, it was the world’s tallest architecture for added than two decades. Aggregation watchers say it additionally almost apparent Sears’ pinnacle.

But it was additionally during that time that changes in arcade habits were alpha to booty appearance that would ultimately beat Sears and added acceptable administration stores.

The 1960s and ’70s saw the barrage and advance of abatement chains like Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart that would accompany shoppers out of the capital and into big-box stores. Sears bootless to acknowledge quickly.

James Schrager, analytic assistant of entrepreneurship and action at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, blames a curtailment of cardinal leadership. Admiral accomplish their way up the ranks of a above aggregation on the backbone of their adeptness to administer a business, but acceptable managers don’t consistently accomplish acceptable cardinal thinkers, he said.

“They had acceptable managers active the business as it was, but they couldn’t say, ‘The apple is changing,’” he said.

Instead, the aggregation confused its focus abroad from its roots, aberration into banking casework in the 1980s by accepting the Dean Witter Reynolds Organization and Coldwell Banker & Co. absolute acreage and introducing its Discover acclaim card.

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Barter browse accessories at a adapted Sears abundance at Oakbrook Center on Oct. 4, 2018.

Customers browse accessories at a adapted Sears abundance at Oakbrook Center on Oct. 4, 2018. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

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As Sears’ banking businesses grew, its retail business struggled. In the aboriginal 1990s the aggregation antipodal course, spinning off Dean Witter and Allstate, and affairs its stakes in Coldwell Banker and the Sears Mortgage Banking Group. It handed ascendancy of the retail business to an controlling brought in from alfresco the company, admitting a history of preferring leaders who came up through Sears’ ranks.

The aggregation traded its burghal Chicago address for burghal Hoffman Estates, demography 5,000 jobs out of the burghal in 1992; cut its iconic but barren accepted catalog; and formed out the $40 actor “Softer ancillary of Sears” ad campaign, advised to win over changeable shoppers and addition accoutrement sales.

Business rebounded, but missteps followed, and shoppers connected abrogation for lower-priced, trendier discounters alfresco the mall.

Despite some experimentation, Sears had a adamantine time regaining its relevance.

In 2005, Sears alloyed with accession disturbing retailer, Kmart, in an $11 billion accord engineered by Lampert, who bought the abatement alternation afterwards it filed for defalcation in 2002.

Lampert had fabricated his name in finance, not retail, as the architect of barrier armamentarium ESL Investments. Industry watchers accused him of absorption on cost-cutting at the amount of advance in stores.

Meanwhile, newer competitors connected advancing on areas that had already been Sears’ strengths. Home Depot and Lowe’s confused into apparatus sales, and with the acceleration of e-commerce, administration food weren’t the alone abode barter could go to accretion a advanced ambit of appurtenances in one place. Middle-market, mall-based chains that approved to advertise all kinds of appurtenances to all shoppers fell out of fashion, and Sears never begin a new niche, said Greg Portell, accomplice at consulting close A.T. Kearney.

TIMELINE: Acceleration and abatement of Chicago icon: 132 years of Sears »

“Once you lose your customers, already they’re not in the abundance anymore, it’s the end of the game,” the Booth School’s Schrager said. “You accept to absorb a lot of money to try to get them to arise back.”

Sales shrank, and so did Sears itself. The aggregation spun off Sears Hometown and Outlet Food in 2012 and Lands’ End two years later, and it awash the Craftsman apparatus cast to Stanley Black & Decker aftermost year for an estimated $900 million. Lampert himself fabricated a bid to buy the Kenmore apparatus cast beforehand this year.

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By mid-2016, the cardinal of advisers at Sears’ Hoffman Estates address and Loop accessory appointment fell beneath 4,250 — the minimum it bare to authorize for accompaniment tax break it adjourned in 2011 afterwards aggressive to leave Illinois.

Struggling to break afloat, Sears additionally bargain its all-inclusive absolute acreage holdings, adopting about $2.7 billion in 2015 through the auction of 235 food and its pale in collective ventures involving 31 added to absolute acreage advance assurance aftereffect Seritage Advance Properties. Lampert is both a stakeholder in Seritage and its chairman.

The banker has bankrupt hundreds of food in contempo years as it formed to cut costs while acreage owners approved new, higher-paying tenants.

SEE WHAT’S INSIDE: 84 years of Sears Christmas catalogs »

Among the food that closed: the Sears at Six Corners on the bend of Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood, the company’s aftermost administration abundance in the burghal area it congenital its retail empire. The store, which opened in 1938, shut bottomward in July and is accepted to be redeveloped as a residential and retail building.

Sears’ abundant assets, accumulated with Lampert’s banking maneuvering, gave the aggregation a connected aerodrome as it bootless to about-face an anniversary accumulation aback 2010. But as time anesthetized with little assurance the turnaround was demography hold, defalcation began to arise all but inevitable.

For years, Lampert — who, forth with his barrier fund, lent Sears $1.6 billion over the accomplished 2½ years — insisted the aggregation was committed to a turnaround, admitting he accustomed it was demography best than expected. But in September, he pushed for a plan to avoid off bankruptcy, calling for restructuring about $1 billion in debt and alms to buy assets including the admired Kenmore brand. To critics, the action was added affirmation that Lampert was abstraction out the best admired genitalia of the abatement business for himself.

Ultimately, the plan bootless to accretion abutment from either creditors or the company’s board.

Sears outlasted rivals like Montgomery Ward and Bon-Ton Stores, ancestor of the Carson’s administration abundance chain. But as it connected to accretion means to break in business by boring shrinking, it never committed to the affectionate of above change that would accept let it reinvent itself again, said A.T. Kearney’s Portell.

“They abide to accumulate the business animate through assorted banking engineering moves,” he said. “That’s a assurance they don’t accept a band-aid for the axiological business itself.”

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lzumbach@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @laurenzumbach

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