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New York CNN Business —  

Sears is nearing a crucial deadline that could determine whether it survives.

The bankrupt company set 4 pm ET Friday as the deadline for potential buyers to bid for Sears’ assets. It wants someone to buy about 500 of its stores and the Kenmore appliance brand to keep Sears and Kmart open for business.

Sears told the bankruptcy court it has interest from multiple parties. But the only public bidder for those assets is the hedge fund controlled by Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert, who is the company’s largest creditor and served as CEO until its bankruptcy.

He is offering $4.6 billion for those operating assets. Lampert says his plan would let 50,000 Sears employees keep their jobs. The company had 68,000 workers at the time of its bankruptcy filing. Lampert is not offering to put up much new cash. Instead, he wants to forgive about $1.8 billion of the debt he holds from Sears.

Lampert has until Friday afternoon to make that bid official. If he doesn’t – and if no other bidders arise, Sears will have a critical decision to make. It could extend the deadline – or it could decide to accept defeat and begin a plan to close all of its stores and liquidate its assets. A liquidation would probably take months to complete.

Spokespeople for Sears and Lampert declined to comment Thursday.