Standing inside his Sears Hometown store in Eunice, owner Phil Young feels fortunate.

While the national Sears brand is struggling and closing stores across the country, his store continues to carry the name of the iconic American retailer that traces its beginning to more than 133 years ago.

Young, who for 17 years was a nurse at Our Lady Of Lourdes, bought the small store at 340 E. Laurel Ave. 15 years ago and has worked to make it a fixture of the small Louisiana community. His store, like other franchised Hometown and Outlet stores, are separate from the main Sears Holdings Co., which is now down to 425 Sears and Kmart stores.

"We're independently owned and operated," said Young, whose store has only two employees. "We sell Sears merchandise, but I'm responsible for my bills. (The corporate bankruptcy) may have affected us because of the negative publicity … but we're basically our own organization and that kind of helps us. I've been very fortunate over the past 15 years."

The Hometown and Outlet stores have been insulated somewhat from Sears’ struggles in recent years. The parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last fall as closures piled up after having as many as 3,500 stores across the country, including the Acadiana Mall store that closed two years ago.

As the Sears name appears to be fading, it’s the Hometown Stores that may be the last place of business that will display that iconic company name.

Young's store focuses on selling appliances and hardware not only from the Sears line of products but also from brands like Whirlpool, Craftsman, Kenmore and Die Hard. It also offers gardening tools and mattresses.

"In many cases, the smaller towns or less affluent areas of the country where there's not much hustle and bustle or competition are where people still want to go someplace to shop,” said Jake Dollarhide, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based investment adviser and retail analyst. “They don't want to pay for Amazon Prime or delivery charges and instead want to go get the products they need now at stores they know nearby."

Sears is attempting to bounce back. It will open a Home & Life store at 4405 Ambassador Caffery Parkway in Lafayette on Memorial Day weekend, one of three stores the struggling retailer plans to open following its bankruptcy filing. 

But it's also had its misfires, including a remodeled store in Chicago it closed after opening it to much fanfare seven months ago. 

The Hometown and Outlet stores, however, have struggled as many retailers nationwide have had to downsize. The company reported a net loss of $3 million in the fourth quarter of 2018 compared to the previous year and $41.6 million for the year compared to 2017.

Last month the Hometown and Outlet Stores rejected an offer from a company affiliated with the hedge fund controlled by former Sears CEO Eddie Lampert to buy all the remaining Sears Hometown stock not already owned by the fund. Lampert, according to some reports, was interested in closing the Hometown stores.

Officials with the Hometown and Outlet stores declined comment for this story.

Young’s Eunice store is one of eight remaining in Louisiana, including stores in Mansura and DeRidder, and 722 nationwide. In the last 10 years, stores in Jennings, Opelousas, Bayou Vista, Franklin, Morgan City and Ville Platte have closed.

The Lafayette Outlet store, 2001 NW Evangeline Thruway, is one of two such stores in Louisiana, according to the company website. The store owner also declined comment for this story.

Carmen Nichols of Ville Platte said she recently had a refrigerator delivered to her home and said she prefers dealing locally with Young to ordering online.

"It's very uplifting to know the people you do business with and have that feeling of working one-on-one with someone you know is going to take care of you," Nichols said.

The smaller stores in smaller towns work better than big stores in big markets in today's online economy.

"The kick-the-tire type of retail store that sells larger items like automobiles and appliances have been performing better nationally in recent years than retail in general because these are items many people are less comfortable about purchasing online," said Gary Wagner, Acadiana business economist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

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