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What’s next for Kmart plaza in Sterling?

Sign plastered on the entrance to Kmart announced the impending closing of the store in Sterling in this Jan. 9 photo.
Sign plastered on the entrance to Kmart announced the impending closing of the store in Sterling in this Jan. 9 photo.

STERLING – The liquidation sale is over and the doors are locked. The strip mall loosely known as Sterling Center is without its anchor store, and the huge Kmart building at 2901 E. Lincolnway is available for sale or lease.

The complex offers 104,960 square feet for prospective tenants. Built in 1972, it was gutted and renovated in the 1990s. It once was home to seven businesses, but now houses only two.

One of those is Kidder Music, which has been at the mall since April 1990. An obvious concern is the reduction in foot traffic that is likely to come with the loss of a big-box retailer like Kmart.

The store has no plan to move at this time, Kidder President Beth Houlihan said. While the Kmart closure has brought uncertainty regarding the mall’s future, things could ultimately work out for the better, Houlihan said.

“We would love to have a situation where this is locally owned,” Houlihan said. “I think it could bring more stability. People in Chicago don’t know what happens here.”

The building is owned by Kmart parent Sears Holding Co., based in Hoffman Estates. The companies merged in 2005.

Houlihan said she also believes the older buildings might be better cared for under local ownership.

“I think the upkeep would improve,” she said. “I think it would be better for the community and the plaza.”

The other tenant at the plaza is My Nail Salon.

Given that Kmart has just wrapped up the long closing process that started in earnest in late October, not much is going on regarding a sale or new lease agreement, said Sterling Mayor Skip Lee.

“No one has expressed an interest in it yet,” Lee said, “but I wouldn’t expect inquiries until the store officially closed.”

The mayor is guardedly optimistic about prospects for bringing in a new owner.

“It’s a fantastic property at a great location,” Lee said. “But my experience with these types of buildings is you can expect it to sit empty for at least a year or two.”

The size of the complex and scale of the project have put it on the radar of economic development people outside of Sterling, Lee said.

“There are several people from economic development and the chambers from Sterling and Rock Falls keeping a close eye on this,” Lee said. “We’re not standing idly by, hoping someone comes in off the interstate to inquire.”

Speculation about the future of the plaza brought several theories from local residents, some of which appeared on the Sauk Valley Media Facebook page. Businessman Pete Harkness is part of the conversation, with some people insisting he has already bought the property.

While Harkness didn’t go so far as to say he wasn’t interested, he did put some of the rumors to rest when asked Friday.

“I do not have the Kmart facility under contract, nor have I purchased the property,” Harkness said.

About a year ago, Harkness bought the Ryan’s Family Steakhouse property at 3900 E. Lincolnway, a few blocks east of the former Kmart story. The restaurant closed in 2007, and at the time of the purchase, Harkness said he planned to find a new tenant.

Lee said Harkness gave no indication he was looking at the Kmart property.

“I talked to Pete about it,” Lee said, “and I really didn’t think he was interested.”

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