By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Two rusted service vans are parked near the entrance like symbols of a retailer’s fall from favor.

St. Paul’s Sears department store has anchored a busy corner near the State Capitol since 1963. Suddenly, the store is living its last weekend. All merchandise has been discounted by 50 to 80 percent off retail.

“I know it’s because of the internet and online shopping. I like brick and mortar,” longtime shopper, Carol Schwartzbauer, said.

So Schwartzbauer’s bargain hunting inside is bittersweet.

“I lived in the Midway area since 1983, and St. Paul since I was born. I watched the Wards come down, it’s sad, so sad,” she said.

Sears has been struggling with massive debt taken on from a 2008 leveraged buyout. But also reeling from the consumer’s changing shopping habits.

Combined, those factors are forcing Sears to close more than one-third of the chain’s 700 stores to navigate bankruptcy protection.

Walking into the store, Getinet Kidamemariam explained, “I bought my first warm jacket here, a lot of good memories.”

Kidamemariam emigrated from Ethiopia back in 2003 and says Sears was the first store he shopped in. Years later he’d get a job working in the men’s department. On Friday, he stopped by for one final look.

“It’s really, really sad. Actually, I came to say goodbye and to pay my final tribute to the store,” Kidamemariam adds.

The store once housed the local Department of Motor Vehicles office, which recently relocated to a location along University Avenue.

A cruise through the store reveals shelves which are mostly bare, as bargain hunters scavenge racks of clothing and a few remaining Kenmore appliances.

“I came here looking for a refrigerator but they are all gone. Yea, it’s just a shell in there,” local entertainer, Sean Tillmann, said.

A shell of real estate soon to be prime for future redevelopment. But for the weekend at least, standing as a faded symbol of how Minnesota families once shopped.

The two remaining Sears stores at Ridgedale and Mall of America are planned to close in March.

Bill Hudson