Hechinger buys Sears store in D.C.

June 24, 1994|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,Sun Staff Writer

Home-improvement chain Hechinger Co. has agreed to buy an empty Sears building in an affluent Washington neighborhood and turn it into one of its biggest stores.

Hechinger signed a contract to buy the store, on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest Washington, from Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Life Insurance Co. of Virginia, the companies said yesterday. The price was not disclosed.

The deal allows Hechinger to place one of its huge, warehouse-like "home project centers" in a wealthy, densely populated area.

That's something the company would like to pursue, but can't. Most of its sites are too small for stores with 100,000 square feet of space, the size of choice in the home-center trade. And new, large properties in prime retail corridors are scarce.

In the company's Hechinger Stores division, which does business in the Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia areas, only a half dozen out of 72 outlets are in the 100,000-foot range. Most are around 60,000 square feet.

The new store will replace a 20,000 square-foot Hechinger across Wisconsin Avenue that dates from the 1950s. The move will at least quadruple Hechinger's annual sales in the area, to more than $25 million, analysts estimated.

Hechinger earned $24.76 million last year on $2.094 billion in revenue.

The former Sears store, next to a Metro stop in Washington's Tenleytown neighborhood, has been empty for more than a year. It has two levels and 190,000 square feet of space.

It's possible that Hechinger could open a two-story outlet there, but that would be "something that's certainly against everything they've done before," said R. Bentley Offutt, head of Baltimore investment firm Offutt Securities.

No final decisions have been made about the layout, a spokeswoman said. But Kenneth J. Cort, head of the Hechinger Stores unit, said the Tenleytown site will probably be in the 90,000-square-foot range -- which means one level.

It is expected to open in the fall of 1995, company officials said.

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