Malls fear Sears bankruptcy signs will scare off buyers

If you’re going out of business, try not to make too much of a fuss about it.

As Sears gears up to close some 142 stores after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, some mall operators are worried that big banners and garish signs could spoil the holiday vibe at their shopping centers — and further tarnish the already-battered image of shopping malls. In a filing in US Bankruptcy Court on Monday, big mall owners including Macerich and Brixmor sought to clamp down on attention-getting tactics used by liquidators, including strobe lights, bullhorns and balloons. Likewise, the landlords are looking to ban phrases including “Total Liquidation Sale,” “Going out of Business,” “Everything Must Go” and “Bankruptcy Sale.” Consider the neighboring stores, the mall owners pleaded in their Monday filing. “Shopping center tenants bargain for a certain environment as part of their decision to lease space in centers,” the mall operators said in the filing, arguing that folks handing out fliers about liquidation sales aren’t part of that deal. Indeed, five landlords were so concerned about potential violations that they asked a bankruptcy judge to approve a list of do’s and don’ts before these sales get seriously underway in their malls — the biggest one among them South Coast Plaza in Irvine, Calif. Sears didn’t hire one of the more prominent liquidators like Gordon Brothers, Hilco or Tiger Capital, instead choosing lesser-known Abacus Advisors Group, said bankruptcy attorney David Pollack of Ballard Spahr, who represents Brixmor. “It’s more of a proactive measure, but we also haven’t been able to make contact with the liquidator to make an agreement with them,” Pollack said. In the meantime, the mall operators are not leaving anything to chance. They’ve asked the court to ban neon or “day-glo” signs, and to limit the number of signs Sears is permitted to display in its own stores to five. They’re also asking that any signs not be visible from the “doors or windows of the store.”Exterior signs are out of the question, the landlords contend, while any window signs have to be displayed 12 inches away from the window and cannot take up more than 50 percent of the space. “Landlords have a primary interest in maintaining an aesthetic appearance in the shopping centers for the benefit of all the tenants, especially during the holiday season,” the mall companies wrote. The concerns come amid reports that Sears’ biggest shareholder and former chief executive, Eddie Lampert, is trying to secure a $300 million loan to keep some of the better stores open and humming, sources confirmed to The Post. Lampert is in talks with Cyrus Capital Partners, which holds some of Sears’ existing debt. The bankruptcy loan is in addition to a $300 million loan from Sears’ lenders, including Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, which have agreed to provide a temporary lifeline to the 125-year-old retailer.