Owner locks doors on stores as Sears corporation gets ready to hold going out of business sale.

TONY AHERN/MADRAS PIONEER - An assortment of sales notices are attached to the doors of the Madras Sears, however the doors are locked.There is supposed to be a big going-out-of-business sale going on at the Madras Sears store — but maybe it's already gone out of business.

Heidi Wood, of Powell Butte, owner of the Sears store in Madras and also Prineville and in Bend, has locked the doors of her stores in protest and defiance against moves made by corporate ownership.

Earlier this month, the Sears corporation announced that it would close 90 to 100 underperforming stores in the country, and apparently the Madras and Prineville stores were targeted in that downsizing. According to Wood, when she wouldn't move forward with ending the leases on their buildings with outside owners, Sears terminated the operating contract with her on all three of their area stores.

Wood responded by locking the doors to their Madras and Bend stores, while the building owners in Prineville locked that business.

Reached Tuesday morning, Wood — who opened the Madras store at 510 SW Fifth St. with her mother in 2006 — provided this account:

"Sears Corporate had called me about a little over a month ago and asked me if I would be willing to close the Prineville and Madras stores. I explained to them that we had just moved into the Prineville store, (and) that the owners of the building spent quite a bit of money relocating a tenant and getting the building ready for us."

"And we had just signed a five-year lease with them per Sears contract and to all their specifications, and they asked me again if I would be willing to basically walk away from my lease. And I said no, that I couldn't do that to the owners of a building and in a small community, you just don't do that."

Wood added that a few days after that phone call, she was notified that Sears wanted to conduct an audit of her stores.

"In the past 12 years, I've never had a bad audit. And my audit didn't go well. I had had a store trainer come over and go through all my paperwork to make sure that I was all good. Everybody always has areas of improvement to work on, but my audit should have gone fine," said Wood. "When they came over, it wasn't going right, and something was up, I'm not sure what."

A couple weeks later, according to Wood, Sears notified them that they were terminating their contracts on all three stores. Within minutes of being informed of the termination, Wood said, she received a call from her Madras store that Sears officials were there and announced they were liquidating and closing, effectively immediately, the Prineville and Madras stores.

Wood said she then spoke to a Sears official who said they were closing the stores because "they weren't profitable." Wood, however, says both stores made a profit, but maybe not to the level Sears would like. The representative then told her the stores "were no longer my stores, and that the Sears Corporate had the right to close their stores now."

Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores Inc. is based in Chicago. The company did not return phone calls for comment on the situation.

At the onset of June, the chain had 882 stores, operated by either franchisees or the company.

Wood was particularly upset that the company would suggest they walk away from local property leases. They had recently moved to a new Prineville location, where the property owner had invested thousands in his building in order to meet Sears standards. The Woods themselves spent $4,000 just to move their sign.

"It was ironic because two days after we moved, (Sears) put out a statement that they were aggressively pursuing closing between 90 and 100 (underperforming) stores in the second quarter," said Wood.

Wood also had kind words for the Madras property owner, Arthur Erickson and the manager, Cobalt Property Management. She said they "worked with her" during the recession on rent.

"You create friendships and relationships over the years, so we were on very good terms with all of our buildings."

Wood wants to make it clear that they are not leaving Madras and Prineville, but that "Sears has left" the towns. She noted that she even volunteered to turn the store leases over to others if they could remain open, but that Sears rejected the offer.

While there were several "sales" flyers stuck on the door of the Madras store, there was also this note: "This lease belongs to Heidi Wood. No one is authorized to remove lock. Verify lease with Cobalt Prop."

As for those who have ordered merchandise through the local stores, Wood says they need to contact Sears service center directly.

Again, efforts to reach Sears for comment on the situation, or plans for the future, were unsuccessful.

At this point, according to the ads, merchandise in the Madras Sears store is up to 70 percent off. But a customer would need bolt-cutters to get at it.

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