WALLA WALLA — The opening of downtown Walla Walla’s newest retailer this morning marked a homecoming of sorts.
Sears Hometown Store made its debut, bringing the brand back to Walla Walla after a seven-month absence and to downtown after decades.
Owner Scott Hester unlocked the door at 9 a.m. with little fanfare or even lines. But it didn’t take long before customers began to trickle in.
“Are you open?” asked the first customer of the day, Mary Wilen, who strolled in with her husband, Larry Love.
The pair happened to be downtown for other purchases when they saw employees milling inside the retailer, 207 E. Main St., the spot that once served as home for the Blue Mountain Humane Society Thrift Store before sitting vacant the last several years.
“We’re happy to see it back,” Wilen said as she strolled through the appliances.
“I was just saying this is what Sears should be — appliances and tools.”
The new store, an independently owned version of a traditional full-line Sears, is different than the store that closed last spring at the Blue Mountain Mall. It doesn’t have apparel, electronics or housewares. The main focus is tools, appliances, home and garden equipment and mattresses.
Hester, who also owns Sears Hometown Stores in La Grande and Baker City, Ore., said appliances are the mainstay. “You’d probably be hard-pressed to find a bigger selection in town,” Hester said.
The rear showroom of the 10,500-square-foot space is lined with an array of appliances — washers, dryers, ranges, freezers, refrigerators. And there is a wide selection of each — trios, side-by-sides and top mount refrigerators, for instance.
Although the hometown stores are more comparable in size to the smallest of the full-line stores, Hester said the inventory doesn’t necessarily read small. “You don’t really notice it so much in the wrenches and ratchets,” he said. He said the independent stores have expanded their tool selection by 1,000 stock-keeping units.
Hester said more inventory will be coming into the store, too. As with other Sears Hometown Stores, the operation is preparing for post-Thanksgiving sales and plans to open with doorbusters at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving.
The store’s opening comes after several months of intensive reconstruction. A staircase leading to the upper floor was removed. The second level is not currently in use.
Flooring, walls, ceiling and fixtures were all replaced. Sears estimates the cost to open of its Hometown Stores at typically around $100,000, according to its website. Actual costs depend on square footage, merchandise assortment and location. Interior fixtures required by the company are estimated around $32,000, while point-of-sale, office equipment and furniture is figured at about $25,000. Other costs include leasehold improvements, insurance, utility deposits, permits, legal fees and more.
More personalized touches were added to the store, including covering columns in galvanized metal.
Sears had operated on downtown’s Main Street for years before moving to the Blue Mountain Mall in the late 1980s. The store was one of the last vestiges of the demolished shopping center when it closed last April. Hester was thrilled to bring the business back to Walla Walla and to the neighborhood of its local roots.
“We love the space. We love the downtown,” he said. I think it’s going to be real good.”