Once a retail giant, Kmart NJ drops to 3 stores after closing


“everything [Kmart] Used to sell, people are buying but they are buying it from Walmart and Target.”

People walk in a kilometer in Avenel, NJ, Monday, April 4, 2022. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo) The Associated Press

AVENEL, NJ (AP) — Familiar sights and sounds are still out there: cracked and discolored floor tiles, relentless beige-on-beige color scheme, kids’ clothes and refrigerators, and much more in between.

There’s even a canned recording to begin with, “Attention, Kmart shoppers” — except that it’s meant to remind people about COVID-19 precautions, not ladies like the old days. Let’s alert to flash sales in lingerie.

Many of the shelves are bare, however, at Kmart in Avenel, New Jersey, picked up by bargain hunters as the store prepares to close its doors on April 16.

Once it takes off, the number of Kmarts in the US — once well over 2,000 — will drop to three final holdouts, according to multiple reports, in a retail world now dominated by Walmart, Target and Amazon. Is.

The store’s demise, in a middle-class suburb 15 miles (24 kilometers) south of New York City, is the story of the death of a discount department store.

“You’re always thinking about it because stores are closing all over the place, but it’s still sad,” said cashier Michelle Yaworski, who said she worked at Avenel stores for two and a half years. “I will miss the place. Lots of people shopped here.”

In its heyday, Kmart sold product lines endorsed by celebrities Martha Stewart and Jacqueline Smith, sponsored NASCAR auto races and was mentioned in films including “Rain Man” and “Beetlejuice”. It was named in songs by artists ranging from Eminem to the Beastie Boys to Hall and Oates; In 2003, Eminem purchased a 29-room, suburban Detroit mansion that was once owned by former Kmart president Chuck Conway.

The chain cemented a place in American culture with its Blue Light special, a glowing blue sphere affixed to a pole that would prompt shoppers to progress to a flash sale. Part of its success was due to the early adoption of layaway programs, which allowed customers who lacked credit to reserve items and pay for them in installments.

For a while, Kmart had it all: You could shop for your kids’ school-to-school supplies, tune your car, and pick up a meal without leaving campus.

“Kmart was part of America,” said Michael Liskey, a Baltimore-based author who has written several books on American retail history. “Everyone went to Kmart, whether you like it or not. They had everything. You had toys. You had sporting goods. You had candy. You had stationery. It was something for everyone. It was almost It was as much a social tour as it was a shopping tour. You can spend hours here. And it just dotted the American landscape over the years.”

Kmart’s decline has been slow but steady, led by declining sales, changes in shopping habits, and the growing shadow of Walmart, which coincidentally began within months of Kmart’s founding in 1962.

Struggling to compete with Walmart’s lower prices and Target’s trendier offerings, Kmart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 2002—becoming the largest U.S. retailer to step in—and announced that it would Will close more than 250 stores.

A few years later, hedge fund executive Edward Lampert merged Sears and Kmart and pledged to return them to their former greatness, but the recession and Amazon’s growing dominance contributed to the achievement of those goals. Sears filed for Chapter 11 in 2018 and currently there are only a handful of stores left in the US where there were once thousands.

Kmarts continues to operate in Westwood, New Jersey; Bridgehampton, on Long Island and Miami, New York.

According to Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University in New York and former CEO of Sears Canada, it didn’t have to end like this. Trying to compete with Walmart on price was a foolish tactic, he said, and Lampert was criticized for not having a retail background and showing more interest in separating the two chains’ assets for their cash value.

“This is a study into greed, covetousness and incompetence,” Cohen said. “Sears should never have gone away; Kmart was in worse shape, but largely not so. And now they are both gone.

“Retailers sometimes get out of the way because they’re selling things that people don’t want to buy,” he continued. “In the case of Kmart, people are buying everything they used to sell but they’re buying it from Walmart and 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, even churches. A former site in Colorado Springs, Colorado is now a popular dine-in movie theater.

Kmart employees in Avenel learned last month that the store would be closing.

Unlike 20 years ago, when news of Kmart’s closure nationwide prompted support from loyal shoppers and a Detroit radio station even launched a campaign to try and save a local store, the closing of the Avenel location was mostly a one-off. met with wind of resignation

“It’s probably a little nostalgic because I’ve lived in this area my whole life, but it’s just another retail store closed,” said Jim Scherber, a resident of nearby Islin, who said his brother had run the shoe department at Kmart for years. had worked in “It’s another sign of people shopping online and not going to retail stores.”

The finale packed a tad more of an emotional punch for Mike Gerdonek, a truck driver who recalls shopping at Kmart in Brooklyn and Queens in his younger days.

“It’s like history going through before our eyes,” he said as he sat in his car outside the Avenel store. “I didn’t have money when I was younger, so it was a good place to shop because the prices were cheap. And it’s sad to see it go by now.”

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