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DALTON, Ga. — The Kmart has cleared out of the building on West Walnut Avenue. The property has been fenced off, and workers are preparing to demolish half the building to make way for a new Food City grocery store.

On Friday morning, the company followed Macy's, Kohl's and Dillard's in reporting declining sales in the second quarter. J.C. Penney also posted a deeper loss than analysts expected -- hurt by clearance sales -- sending the shares down as much as 17 percent in early trading.

For decades, department stores like Macy's and Sears have anchored sprawling suburban malls. Now as their business has languished and they board up shop, another sort of tenant is trying its luck in their place: grocers.