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How Chicago’s vacant Sears stores are being reborn as new neighborhood hubs

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Vacant stores offer a unique opportunity for developers to add new housing

A seven-story building on the corner with retail on the lower levels and apartment units above. The exterior has a mix of light and dark gray materials.
An updated rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Six Corners Sears in Portage Park. The project partially reusing the existing storefront that faces the intersection.
Rendering by CallisonRTKL, courtesy Chicago’s 45th Ward

The decade-long decline of the Sears brand from 3,500 stores to less than 200 locations has not only reshaped the larger American retail landscape, but also affected the individual communities that the troubled department store chain had once anchored. For some Chicago developers, the situation presents unique opportunities for mixed-use revitalization.

At the Six Corners intersection in Portage Park, there’s a $200 million plan to redevelop the city’s last Sears location, which closed in 2018. Partners Tucker Development and Seritage Growth Properties—a spin-off of Sears’ former real estate arm—have the support of Alderman Jim Gardiner (45th) to bring roughly 400 apartments and townhomes, 790 parking spaces, as well as new retail space to the vacant corner.

Meanwhile, the Tucker-Seritage joint venture is also working to redevelop another shuttered Sears facility at the intersection of Chicago’s North and Harlem avenues, near the border of Galewood and Elmwood Park. The plan, which calls for 213 residential units plus a fitness club and a grocery store, was approved by city officials last summer.

Then in Ravenswood, Springbank Real Estate Group and CA Ventures are transforming the vacant 1920’s-era former Sears building at 1900 W. Lawrence Avenue into 59 apartments, 91 parking spaces, and 30,000 square feet of retail space anchored by DeVry University.

In 2017, a 112-year-old catalog printing facility that served Sears, Roebuck & Company’s Homan Square campus found new life as a 181-unit affordable housing complex known as the Lofts on Arthington. Nonprofit developer Mercy Housing Lakefront earned a preservation award from Landmarks Illinois for the project in 2019.

As brick-and-mortar retail continues to evolve in the era of e-commerce, adaptive reuse is becoming an increasingly attractive option for empty single-tenant spaces. Other examples include the transformation of Lakeview’s shuttered Sports Authority into a new facility for Advocate Medical Group and a resourceful Kmart-to-school conversion in Waukegan, Illinois.

A sixs-tory loft-style building with a brick facade and retail space along the ground floor.
A rendering for the redevelopment of the former Sears property at North and Harlem avenues.
Tucker Development