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The retail industry is undergoing a changing of the guard.

Sears, Roebuck & Co., in announcing last week the planned mid-1995 spinoff of its Allstate Insurance Group, said Chairman-CEO Edward Brennan would retire at the same time. Sears joins a growing list of retailers-including J.C. Penney Co., Dayton Hudson Corp., Federated Department Stores and R.H. Macy & Co.-whose top executive ranks are turning over.

Speculation persists that the nation's most-visible retail executive, Kmart Corp. President-Chairman-CEO Joseph Antonini could join that list; analysts and many stockholders have questioned whether Mr. Antonini will be around to fully implement the retailer's attempted turnaround.

Kmart has confirmed it is searching for top management, possibly a No. 2 executive to help Mr. Antonini with the day-to-day duties, freeing him to develop corporate strategy.

Retail analyst N. Rick Nelson with Duff & Phelps, Chicago, called the top-level turnover a coincidence unlikely to change the overall retailing environment.

For instance, Mr. Nelson said, Sears Merchandise Group Chairman-CEO Arthur Martinez is unlikely to be affected by Mr. Brennan's retirement. "At Sears, Arthur Martinez is taking over," Mr. Nelson said. "He's already proved that his strategies work."

Likewise, the promotion of two Penney's executives last week harmonized with the announced retirement of Chairman-CEO W.R. Howell, to step down "within the next few years."

James Oesterreicher, will become vice chairman and CEO, from president of Penney stores and catalog; W. Barger Tygart, is moving to chief operating officer, from senior exec VP-director merchandising and support operations.

But mergers and cutbacks at several retailers nationwide have caused more abrupt departures.

The celebrated merger of Federated with Macy's has put several executives on the market, including former Macy's President Roger Farah and Chairman Myron Ullman, as well as former Macy's East Vice Chairman Art Reiner.

Also restructuring, Dayton Hudson's department store division last month eliminated the president-chief operating officer post, formerly held by Marvin Goldstein, and is now searching for a new senior VP-marketing to replace Stewart Widdess, who left.

Also at Dayton Hudson, Mervyn's Chairman-CEO Joseph Vesce resigned last month; his duties have been assumed by President-Chief Operating Officer Paul Sauser.

Leah Rickard contributed to this story.

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