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Bankruptcy judge gives Sears another chance

Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert, seen on Nov. 17,

Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert, seen on Nov. 17, 2004.  Credit: AP/Gregory Bull

A bankruptcy judge has blessed a $5.2 billion plan by Sears' chairman and biggest shareholder to keep the iconic business going.

The approval means roughly 425 stores and 45,000 jobs will be preserved.

Eddie Lampert's bid through an affiliate of his ESL hedge fund overcame opposition from a group of unsecured creditors, including mall owners and suppliers, that tried to block the sale and pushed hard for liquidation.

In delivering his decision Thursday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain for the Southern District of New York rejected the committee's claims that the sale process was unfair and flawed, that it shut out any other parties who could have been interested in buying the business and that Sears had more value to its creditors if it died than if it lived.

Lawyers for Sears and ESL argued the sale offered the best deal and preserved jobs.

Drain is expected to enter his order on Friday, making it official.

Even with this latest reprieve, Sears' long-term survival remains an open question. Lampert hasn't put forth any specific reinvention plans, and the company still faces cutthroat competition from Amazon, Target and Walmart. Meanwhile, its stores look old and drab.

Lampert steered Sears into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October. The company's corporate parent, which also owns Kmart, had 687 stores and 68,000 employees at the time of the filing. At its peak in 2012, its stores numbered 4,000.

Last year, Sears Holdings Corp. announced several rounds of closings that shuttered or will shutter at least 474 stores, including six on Long Island — Sears locations in Hicksville, New Hyde Park and Garden City, and Kmart locations in West Babylon, Riverhead and Huntington.

The other remaining stores on Long Island are Sears in Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, Sunrise Mall in Massapequa and Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream; and Kmarts in Bridgehampton, Farmingville and Bohemia. There are also two Sears Auto Centers, in Valley Stream and Massapequa.

Sears was hit hard during the recession and was outmatched in its aftermath by shifting consumer trends and strong rivals. It hasn't had a profitable year since 2010 and has suffered 11 straight years of declining sales.

With Tory Parrish

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