Why U-Haul Is Buying Up Abandoned Department Stores

Sears and Kmart are moving out, and U-Haul is moving in.

The Phoenix, Ariz.-based moving and storage company plans to purchase 13 stores from Sears Holdings Co. as the bankrupt retailer looks to shed shuttered locations, according to court documents first reported by SpareFoot.

While that represents only a fraction of the more than 500 stores the company is looking to sell while in Chapter 11 proceedings, U-Haul’s real estate and development arm, Amerco Real Estate Co., has offered $62 million for the deal — cash that Sears desperately needs. Offloading big-box real estate also represents a particular challenge since few retailers today can or want to fill that kind of space on their own (the average full-line Sears store is 159,000 square feet, according to eMarketer).

U-Haul plans to turn the locations — situated in 11 states coast to coast — into storage centers and warehouses for its fleet of rental vehicles, a practice it has employed numerous times, taking over buildings vacated by Macy’s, Ames, Price Chopper and even Kmart.

The strategy is part of the company’s “adaptive reuse” program, prioritizing pre-existing sites it can renovate for its own use. “The primary goal for U-Haul is to reuse and recycle as much material as feasible, while installing as many new sustainable design features as possible,” reads its website.

Its executives have also touted the convenience of mall-based locations for self-storage units, which customers can typically access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The malls themselves will also no doubt welcome the visitors — though U-Haul’s customers are less likely to be making regular visits than the co-working tenants and gymgoers some shopping centers are courting in the wake of mall closures.

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