If Sears emerges from bankruptcy this month, the company will probably close dozens more stores by the end of the year.
The company anticipates closing about 36 of the 200 remaining Kmart stores, according to a business plan filed with the court last week by a top executive of Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert's hedge fund. The court is determining this week whether to accept Lampert's $5.2 billion offer to rescue the bankrupt company.
Sears' stores are sitting on valuable real estate. The plan estimates that real estate sales will generate $200 million a year through 2021. Those sales will be a key way the "new" Sears would pay off debt.
Lampert insists he wants to buy the company because he believes a smaller Sears with less debt can be profitable and competitive.
Asked about the projections of future store closings, a spokesman for his hedge fund said the a revamped Sears would rely on a "meaningful network" of stores.
"We intend for the new company to operate as many Sears and Kmart stores as reasonably possible, including new smaller stores that emphasize our stronger capabilities. Continuing to operate a meaningful network of stores is essential to achieving our goal of returning Sears to profitability," the spokesman said.
But other experts suggest that Lampert only wants to keep the company going as part of a plan to sell off real estate, slowly and steadily, as a way of maximizing the money he can get from his investment.
Lampert managed the company since 2005 as if it were a slow-motion liquidation, said Philip Emma, analyst with Debtwire and an expert in retail bankruptcies.
Keeping Sears open means Lampert could continue that strategy.
"He benefits from maintaining the controlled liquidation," said Emma.
Sears has been slashing and selling for years.
The company had 3,500 US stores and more than 300,000 employees when Sears and Kmart merged in 2005. Last year it was down to about 1,000 stores and 89,000 employees.
Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain has indicated that he would like Sears to survive if possible to save up to 45,000 jobs. But under bankruptcy law he has to decide on what's best for those owed billions by the troubled retailer.
Sears' creditors argue that the company is doomed to fail and want it liquidated.