Downtown Sears ranked among top in US

The store, operating for only six months, won big in customer satisfaction.

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WALLA WALLA — The Sears Hometown Store on Walla Walla’s Main Street may be a smaller version of a traditional Sears. But when it comes to service and sales, it’s packing a punch.

Owner Scott Hester said the store has been ranked in the top 10 out of more than 900 Sears Hometown Stores in the U.S. The news was delivered earlier this week via a visit from the Chicago-based regional manager who covers the “west” region from Canada to Mexico, Hester said.

What started as a typical site tour of the six-month-old store and the 10,500-square-foot showroom at 207 E. Main St. became a good-news celebration for Hester. Based on information tabulated by the company, the Walla Walla Sears Hometown Store is ranked sixth in the country.

“I was shocked. Totally shocked,” Hester said Thursday. “We’ve been so busy trying to keep the store going that I hadn’t even thought anything about that.”

Hester said the rankings are based largely on customer satisfaction. Sales are also a factor. All of the receipts include surveys for customers to submit. The results contribute to the rankings.

The site visit Wednesday was part of a trip that also included a drop-in at the new Sears Hometown Store in Lewiston.

The ranking the Walla Walla store solidified the significance of the return of Sears to Main Street. Sears had operated on 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 in April 2012.

Hester said he’s been told the closure wasn’t necessarily linked to poor sales in the community, as much as it was to the dismal condition of the mall property.

Downtown Walla Walla Foundation Executive Director Elio Agostini said the opening of the Sears Hometown Store diversified downtown’s retail mix with tools, appliances and other equipment.

“It makes such a huge difference when talking to people to say we have both Sears and Macy’s as part of our downtown,” Agostini said.

Already the owner of Sears Hometown Stores in La Grande and Baker City, Ore., Hester found an opportunity to expand in Walla Walla when the larger store at the mall closed.

In the process, he also brought life back to a long vacant downtown property that had been the once-upon-a-time home of the Blue Mountain Humane Society Thrift Store.

The business employs five people — all of whom worked for the previous Sears. Since opening last November, Hester said appliances have emerged as the store’s “bread and butter.” Now that news of the retailer’s success has been delivered, Hester said there’s just one direction he wants to go from here.

“We’re shooting for number one,” he said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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