In Flatbush, Brooklyn, plans to restore the art deco Sears Roebuck & Co. building move forward

Close Call

In Flatbush, Brooklyn, plans to restore the art deco Sears Roebuck & Co. building move forward

Flatbush’s Sears building is on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Beverley Road (Tdorante10/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

Art deco towers inscribed with the name “Sears Roebuck and Co.” in big bold letters at their apex are common sights throughout the U.S. The city of Hackensack, New Jersey, has one; and so does Boyle Heights, Los Angeles; Midtown Minneapolis; and many others. These buildings stand as harbingers of a bygone era before the shopping mall, when American consumers wined-and-dined along Main Street, not off of the side of highways.

Today, many of these handsome buildings stand empty thanks to shifts in consumer and transportation patterns, and building owners struggle to find anchor tenants. What should we do with them?

In Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, a New York developer has plans to renovate a landmarked Sears Roebuck building that’s been vacant for years, not far from the iconic Kings Theater (1929). Clipper Equity, a real estate group led by David Bistricher, recently secured $24 million to finance the preservation of Flatbush’s Sears building, completed in 1932.

Flatbush’s Sears building sits on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Beverly Road. Like many of its counterparts around the country, the Flatbush tower was designed by Nimmons, Carr & Wright—a Chicago firm. Alton L. Craft of New York City was the local architect.

When the building opened in 1932, it was such a grand affair, Eleanor Roosevelt gave opening remarks to christen the structure, and then purchased “a pair of baby booties” according to The Brooklyn Eagle. In 1940, four new bays along Beverly Road were added to the 100-foot tower, along with additional square footage in the rear.

In 2012, Flatbush’s Sears tower was designated as a protected city landmark. Flash forward to 2018: That year, Sears filed for bankruptcy, and the flagship department store company had a fire sale on all of its goods inside the building. Signs reading EVERYTHING MUST GO! quickly populated the ground level. Transformco, a hedge fund, subsequently bought Sears’s assets for $5.2 billion. This gave the hedge fund all 700 properties in Sears’s portfolio, including the Flatbush property.

Two years later, COVID-19 struck, and the parking lot outside the Sears building was converted into a makeshift vaccination center. Then in 2021, the Brooklyn building closed its doors to customers, marking the closure of the chain’s last brick-and-mortar retail outpost in New York City. Transformco then announced its plans to work with Clipper Equity to convert the building into housing and commercial space.

With this recent $24 million acquisition, Clipper Equity wants to renovate all four floors of the Flatbush tower. Their goal is to lease the renewed interiors to office and/or grocery store tenants. Eventually, Clipper Equity hopes to redevelop the entire block surrounding the Sears tower through the ground-up construction of 900 residential units on the block and lot.

AN will circle back when an architect for the project is named.