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Off the Mall: Sears Opening 25 Essentials

Sears, Roebuck and Co. said it was launching an off-mall, midsized format called Sears Essentials, featuring core products and convenience items.

NEW YORK — Sears has another new format, Sears Essentials, which will roll out 25 units beginning in April.

Essentials will feature the best of what’s sold at Sears’ full-line stores, along with convenience items, the company said. Products such as the Martha Stewart Everyday collection, among the best merchandise Kmart offers, may land in Sears Essentials.

“Sears Essentials will lead the way as we embark on the most aggressive growth initiative in company history,” Sears chairman and chief executive officer Alan Lacy said in a statement Tuesday. “This new store format enables Sears to grow its brand off-mall and better meet the everyday needs of our customers.”

Sears Essentials could become a far larger chain after the Sears-Kmart merger is completed in March. There has been speculation that Sears will convert Kmart stores to its own nameplate.

“We will have additional merchandise opportunities, assuming that the merger goes through,” said a Sears spokeswoman. “We will look to take the best of both Sears and Kmart to Essentials.” Kmart’s other exclusive brands include Thalia Sodi, Jaclyn Smith, Joe Boxer and Route 66.

Sears closed on 50 Kmarts and six former Wal-Marts in the third quarter of 2004.

The 25 Sears Essentials locations are scattered in dense locations in 12 states, with Florida and California having the most.

While ready to forge ahead with the new format, Sears continues to struggle with its core chain of 870 full-line stores. Apparel sales were weak last year. Also, the Sears Grand format, combining Sears’ traditional merchandise with food and convenience items, is still in its infancy.

Essentials will have 90,000 to 100,000 gross square feet, on one level. They will feature a racetrack layout, which has become a standard in retailing because they are easy and fast to shop. Upon entering the stores, seasonal merchandise, such as Easter baskets, will be up front, followed by home decor, appliances, tools, lawn and garden, home fashion and apparel. Convenience items will include health and beauty, pantry, soft drinks, household and paper products, pet supplies and toys. There will be customer service centers and central checkouts by exits.