There’s even a canned recording that begins, “Attention, Kmart shoppers” — except it’s to remind folks about COVID-19 precautions, not to alert them to a flash sale over in ladies’ lingerie like in the days of old.
Many of the shelves are bare, though, at the Kmart in Avenel, New Jersey, picked over by bargain hunters as the store prepares to close its doors for good April 16.
Once it shutters, the number of Kmarts in the U.S. – once well over 2,000 – will be down to three last holdouts, according to multiple reports, in a retail world now dominated by Walmart, Target and Amazon.
The demise of the the store in the middle-class suburb, 15 miles south of New York City, is the tale of the death of the discount department store writ small. You think about it all the time because there are so many stores closing, but it is still very sad,” stated Michelle Yavorsky (cashier), who claimed she worked for Avenel for 2 1/2 years. I will miss this place. Many people used to shop here. Kmart was a major retailer that sold products endorsed by stars Martha Stewart, JaclynSmith, and Kathy Ireland. It sponsored NASCAR races, and was featured in films like “Rain Man,” and “Beetlejuice”. It was name-dropped in songs by artists from Eminem to the Beastie Boys to Hall and Oates; in 2003, Eminem bought a 29-room, suburban Detroit mansion once owned by former Kmart chairman Chuck Conaway.
The chain cemented a place in American culture with its Blue Light Specials, a flashing blue orb affixed to a pole that would beckon shoppers to a flash sale in progress. Layaway programs were adopted early by Kmart, which enabled customers without credit to place orders and then pay in monthly installments.
Kmart was once a place that had everything. You could buy back-to school supplies for your children, shop for car parts, and even grab food without ever leaving the store.
“Kmart is part of America,” stated Michael Lisicky from Baltimore, who wrote several books about U.S. retail history. Kmart was a place that everyone went, regardless of whether they liked it. You could find everything. They had toys. You had sporting goods. Candy was your favorite thing. You had stationery. There was something to suit everyone. It was as social as a shopping trip. It was a great place to spend hours. These are just some of the many American landmarks that have been present over the past few years. “
Kmart’s decline has been slow but steady, brought about by years of falling sales, changes in shopping habits and the looming shadow of Walmart, which began its life within months of Kmart’s founding in 1962.
Struggling to compete with Walmart’s low prices and Target’s trendier offerings, Kmart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 2002 — becoming the largest U.S. retailer to take that step — and announced it would close more than 250 stores.
Derailed by Amazon
A few years later, hedge fund executive Edward Lampert combined Sears and Kmart and pledged to return them to their former greatness, but the recession and the rising dominance of Amazon contributed to derailing those goals. Sears filed for Chapter 11 in 2018 and currently has a handful of stores left in the U.S. where it once had thousands.
Kmarts are still operating in Westwood (New Jersey); Bridgehampton (on New York’s Long Island) and Miami. Mark Cohen, former CEO of Sears Canada and director of retail studies at Columbia University, New York, said that it didn’t have a happy ending. Trying to compete with Walmart on price was a foolish strategy, he said, and Lampert was criticized for not having a retail background and appearing more interested in stripping off the assets of the two chains for their cash value.
“It’s an example of greed, avarice, and incompetence.” Cohen stated. Kmart had a worse situation than Kmart, but it wasn’t fatal. They’re gone.
“Retailers fall by the wayside sometimes because they’re selling things people don’t want to buy,” he continued. Kmart’s old products are no longer being sold. People now buy it at Walmart or Target. “
Transformco, which owns Kmart and Sears, did not respond to an email seeking comment and a phone number listed for the company was not taking messages.
Nationwide, some former Kmarts remain vacant while others have been replaced by other big-box stores, fitness centers, self-storage facilities and even churches. A popular dine in movie theatre is located at one of the former Colorado Springs locations.
Employees at the Kmart in Avenel found out last month that the store would close.
Unlike 20 years ago, when news of impending Kmart closures around the country prompted an outpouring of support from loyal shoppers and a Detroit radio station even mounted a campaign to try and save a local store, the closing of the Avenel location was met mostly with an air of resignation. “It’s a bit nostalgic, because I have lived in this region my entire life, but it is just another retail outlet closing,” stated Jim Schaber of Iselin, who claimed that his brother was a shoe salesman at Kmart for many years. It’s another indication that people are shopping online and not visiting the stores. “
Mike Jerdonek was a truck driver and recalled his childhood shopping trips to Kmarts in Brooklyn and Queens.
” “It’s almost like the past is right before our eyes,” he stated as he drove by Avenel in his car. It was an affordable place for me to shop when I was young because I had no money. It’s kinda sad to see it go now. “
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