It's not the kind of news anyone wants to hear during the busy holiday shopping season: two more Alexandria stores are closing.

First Payless Shoe Source announced that it will close its store in the Viking Plaza Mall on Dec. 24. Last week, the Sears Hometown Store announced it was shuttering its location in the Midway Mall in January.

This comes at a time when residents of Douglas County and beyond are navigating their first Christmas shopping season minus two big mainstays, Herberger's and JCPenney.

Shoppers expressed unease at the latest closings.

"Somebody needs to do something to get business in here to stay," said Mary Ann Keller of the Brandon-Evansville area, within view of Payless's huge red sale signs. "I don't want to see it die. This town has come so far and I want to see it keep going."

Retailers that have closed have tended to belong to large regional or national chains and have often pointed to competition from internet shopping as the cause. There also seems to be a dearth of investors willing and able to fill the vacancies they leave.

The Sears store was on the market for four months before its owner, Sears Hometown Stores, decided to close it, said district manager Mark Pillsbury. Its last day will be Jan. 12.

The Sears store had been at the Midway Mall since 1978, said mall manager Scott Kluver. It had gone through several management changes recently, he said, and after the most recent change, its corporate owners decided to liquidate. Kluver said he hopes to be able to fill that spot, about 10,000 square feet, in the next year and has already talked to prospective tenants.

Others doing well

Some retailers report an uptick in business, given the reduced competition from retail giants.

"I am actually up from last year and I've been here 10 years," said Rick Bolinske, who sells knives and socks at a holiday kiosk in the Viking Plaza Mall.

Blake Holte, who sells personalized ornaments and wooden gifts at another kiosk, said business seems normal to him.

"So far it's actually tracking with previous years," he said. "We haven't felt a major impact just yet."

To be sure, plenty of stores remain in Alexandria. In a Facebook survey, shoppers told the Echo Press that even though they shop online, they also find treasures downtown, at the big-box outlets near I-94, and yes, at the Viking Plaza Mall, which even with the store closings still sells a range of products including lotions, jewelry, shoes, women's clothing, sporting equipment and craft materials.

"There are still a couple of really great stores left in the Viking Plaza Mall that I will go to and the rest I will give gift cards," wrote Luana Taylor.

Wrote Kylie Vold: "I actually came up from Fargo to do all my Christmas shopping (in) downtown Alexandria. So many unique gifts and I like supporting my hometown."

But there's no denying the online pull. Heather Knight Winter wrote, "Amazon! Love it or hate it you can't beat the prices on most stuff, and the convenience is the best part about it. With five kids it's not that easy to get out and shop much, anyway."

Chimed in Michelle Miller: "Here comes Amazon!!! CLICK CLICK CLICK!"

The United States leads the world in terms of retail space per person, said Paul Vaaler, a law and business professor at the University of Minnesota. Add in growing digital sales and rising interest rates, and it's not a surprise to see retail space contract, he said.

"We are overbuilt in terms of bricks and mortar," Vaaler said.