For the first several years after the formation of Sears Holding Corp. — the product of a merger of Kmart and Sears — hedge fund manager Edward S. Lampert was able to drive up Sears' stock price and assets even while the company's sales figures were fairly pedestrian. But in recent months the company's fortunes have turned. Sears shares — while still worth more than when the merger occurred — have fallen nearly 40 percent since June.

That's a big reason behind Sears Holding Corp.'s dramatic restructuring announced in early February. The firm will divide itself by five, creating autonomous units: operating businesses, support, brands, online and real estate. It's the last one, real estate, that could prove to be the most provocative. A Credit Suisse Securities estimate places the value of the real estate at about $4.7 billion. (Sear's total market value is $13.5 billion.)

Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a New York City-based retail consulting and investment banking firm, thinks the company is on the verge of closing hundreds of Sears and Kmart locations as a possible precursor to a liquidation. Creating an autonomous real estate unit could speed up the process of the company ridding itself of darkened storefronts throughout the country.