Sears once boasted on having everything you need. Those days are long gone.

Sears Holdings' chance of survival is being called into question by none other than the company itself, which now concedes it has "substantial doubt" about sticking around.

That recent revelation, made in its annual report, is not unexpected. Sears is a longtime corporate life-support case. But the owner of Sears and Kmart is far from being the only sickly retailer dealing with such deep despair this year.

In fact, 2017 is shaping up to be a watershed year for many brand-name retailers. Reeling from weak 2016 holiday sales, established chains such as Macy's and J.C. Penney are slashing costs and closing stores. RadioShack is among those going the bankruptcy reorganization route.

Such industry upheaval and disruption won't end very soon as store operators scramble to compete against online retail giants, led by Amazon. Chains also are testing new merchandising approaches aimed at attracting a changing customer base led by millennial shoppers.

"This is a real shake-up for bricks-and-mortar stores," says Bridget Weishaar, a senior equity analyst at Morningstar.

Those reverberations are definitely rattling Sears, which in its annual report conceded for the first time that there is "substantial doubt" about its ability to keep going.

The admission is seen by many retail experts as a signal that Sears CEO and hedge fund aficionado Eddie Lampert is conceding his plans are running out of gas. They contend the combination of massive losses, shrinking market share and a tired brand concept may finally be a death knell for the Big Store, despite Lampert's penchant for using a lot of financial razzle-dazzle to keep the company around.

Sears, despite its annual report admission, has a different viewpoint.

After the regulatory filing, a Sears spokesman sent me an email expressing continuing confidence in Lampert's restructuring and the company's foray into online shopping and other sales endeavors.

Nevertheless, Sears is shrinking before our eyes. This year, it has scheduled the closing of 150 more stores, including 109 Kmarts — a cutback that comes on top of more than 200 store closings since 2015.

Sears' internal problems aside, the reality is the U.S. has way too many stores, far more than other countries, and that capacity and its related costs will continue to be reduced in the coming years.

Among the chains falling on hard times and shuttering stores this year: American Apparel, Hhgregg, Abercrombie & Fitch and the Limited.

The primary culprit continues to be the loss of customers to e-commerce.

During the last holiday shopping season, for example, e-commerce sales went up around 14 percent from the year before while traditional store sales gains hovered around the low single digits, according to U.S. Census and Commerce Department data.

A retail course correction calls for a massive closing of stores, with some experts estimating that in the years ahead up to 50 percent of current stores will go away.

The ramifications of such deep cutbacks will be sweeping.

Expect hundreds of malls, especially those that are struggling or marginally profitable, to close or be reconstituted into other uses — health care centers, government offices, residential developments — or simply torn down to make way for fresh developments.

The stores and malls that remain will look and feel much different than now, predicts Morningstar's Weishaar.

She notes that millennials are buying less apparel, the sales bedrock of many chains, and prefer more "experiential" purchases, which could mean going to a mall to check out fewer stores and instead connect with new types of multiplatform entertainment, exotic restaurants and other attractions.

Whatever the next chapter, stores will become smaller in size and scope, offering fewer selections and thinner inventory. Many times, they will double as pickup or distribution outlets for online orders.

"There will always be stores, because we still want to touch the fabrics and see styles," she says. "But we don't need the stores to be 10 miles away from each other."

Obviously, not all of the current retailers are going to survive this tumult, which brings us back to Sears.

After hearing the company had voiced hesitation about its future, I stopped by one of the chain's more successful namesake outlets on the city's Northwest Side.

The store was clean but lean, offering what seemed to me to be a limited number of product choices on its shelves and floor displays. During my late afternoon visit, there were customers milling throughout the multilevel Sears. Some had to line up four to five people deep at a checkout point with only a lone cashier.

As a shopping experience, it was definitely a throwback to the old department store era with a mishmash of appliance, jewelry, clothes, tools and other stations lined up throughout the big beige place.

It also had two kayaks on display.

There was a time when Sears boasted it had everything you needed, and it probably did.

But there's no "substantial doubt" about it now. Those days are long gone.

roreed@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @reedtribbiz

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