SAN DIEGO-Montgomery Ward–one of the nation’s pioneer retailers–Thursday announced it will file bankruptcy and shut down all its stores, including four in San Diego County.

Montgomery Ward stores in La Mesa, Mission Valley, National City and Escondido are likely to tell their employees as early as today about the closures, according to a store worker in Mission Valley.

The Chicago-based chain will also close its 10 distribution centers. The chain has 250 stores and 37,000 employees in 30 states.

Retailers, such as Wards, have been hard-hit by fierce competition in the retail arena. Active retail investors continue to prefer neighborhood centers that are anchored by grocery stores and contain a high percentage of service-oriented inline stores, according to a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Since such tenants are thought to be less susceptible to economic downturns than others, re-leasing costs are generally kept to a minimum.

Aside from single-asset sales, shopping center portfolios are also trading hands. In September Developers Diversified Realty Corp. announced it was acquiring 15 retail properties from San Diego-based Burnham Pacific Properties Inc. for $355 million. The properties included community, grocery-anchored and specialty centers located in San Francisco, Southern California, Washington and Oregon. “Sadly, today’s action is unavoidable,” Wards chief officer Roger Goddu said, citing weak holiday sales as the final straw for a struggling company that emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection just last year.

But despite fears of a slowdown, retail sales were up by 3.8% in San Diego County over the holiday season, outpacing the nation’s average of 3.1%, according to a report from TeleCheck Services Inc.

San Diego also surpassed the state average increase of 3.5% for holiday retail sales and was the highest among cities in the West. Forecasters believe the region’s economy will fare better than the rest of the nation during a cooling trend.

For related news, click on:Ailing Retail Giant to Close

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