Former Retail Giant Near Extinction | News, Sports, Work


AVENEL, NJ – Famous sights and sounds are still there: scratched and faded floor tiles, relentless beige-to-beige color scheme, toddlers clothes and refrigerators, and almost everything in between.

There is also a canned recording that starts, “Attention, Kmart buyers” – except it is to remind people of the precautions for COVID-19, not to warn them about a quick sale in lingerie like the old days.

However, many of the shelves are bare at Kmart in Avenel, New Jersey, chosen by handy hunters as the store prepares to close its doors for good on April 16th.

Once closed, the number of Kmart in the US – once more than 2,000 – will be reduced to three on the US mainland and a handful of other stores, according to numerous reports, in a world of retail which is now dominated by Walmart, Target and Amazon.

The demolition of the store on the outskirts of the middle class, 15 miles south of New York City, is the death story of a low-priced, small-print store.

“You’re always thinking about it because stores are closing everywhere, but it ‘s still sad.” said cashier Michelle Yavorsky, who said she worked at the Avenel store for 2 and a half years. “I will miss the place. “A lot of people bought here.”

At its peak, Kmart sold product lines approved by celebrities Martha Stewart and Jaclyn Smith, sponsored NASCAR car races and was mentioned in films including “Rain Man” AND “Beetle juice.”

The chain cemented a spot in American culture with its Blue Light Specials, a glowing blue sphere mounted on a pole that would urge buyers for a quick ongoing sale. Part of its success was due to the early approval of departure programs, which enabled clients who lacked credit to book items and pay them in installments.

For a while, Kmart had a little bit of everything: You could buy for your kids school supplies, fix your car, and eat a meal without leaving the premises.

“Kmart was part of America,” said Michael Lisicky, a Baltimore-based author who has written several books on the history of retail in the US. “Everyone went to Kmart, whether you liked it or not. They had everything. You had toys. You had sports items. You had candy. You had writing articles. It was something for everyone. This was almost as much a social visit as it was a bazaar visit. You can spend hours here. “And that just dripped the American landscape over the years.”

The fall of Kmart has been slow but steady, caused by years of declining sales, changes in shopping habits and the imminent shadow of Walmart, which accidentally began its life within months of Kmart’s founding in 1962.

Struggling to compete with Walmart’s low prices and Target fashion trends, Kmart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 2002 – becoming the largest U.S. retailer to take that step. – and announced that it would close more than 250 stores.

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

There were three Kmart stores in the Mahoning Valley: in Warren that closed in 2016; in Austintown that closed in 2018; and a Super Kmart at the Eastwood Mall Complex that closed in 2019. It was the last Super Kmart in the US to sell groceries.

The chain also had a distribution center in Bazetta that at its peak employed about 800 people. The center, which opened in 1982, had about 50 employees shortly before it closed in early 2019.

The 1.4 million-square-foot Perkins Jones Road Center was acquired in 2019 by Industrial Commercial Properties, a Cleveland-based industrial and commercial real estate development company. It is nearly 100 percent residential with about 170,000 square feet remaining available for rent.

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

It should not have ended that way, according to Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University in New York and former CEO of Sears Canada. Trying to compete with Walmart for the price was a stupid strategy, he said, and Lampert was criticized for not having a retail history and seemed more interested in removing the assets of the two chains for their cash value.

“It’s a study of greed, greed and incompetence.” said Cohen. “Sears should never have disappeared; Kmart was in worse shape, but not fatally. And now they are both gone.

“Retailers sometimes go sideways because they are selling things that people do not want to buy.” he continued. “In the case of Kmart, everything they were selling, people are buying, but they are buying it from Walmart and Target.”

Transformco, which owns Kmart and Sears, did not respond to an email requesting comment and a phone number listed for the company was not receiving messages.

Nationwide, some former Kmart remain empty, while others have been replaced by other large stores, fitness centers, self-preservation facilities, and even churches. A former bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is now a popular movie theater for dinner.

The Super Kmart in Howland Commons east of the mall collapsed to make way for a Meijer Supercenter. The Michigan-based retailer also plans a convenience store and gas station in the former Kmart parking lot.

Employees at Kmart in Avenel learned last month that the store would be closed.

Unlike 20 years ago, when news of the imminent closure of Kmart across the country sparked huge support from loyal shoppers and a radio station in Detroit even launched a campaign to try to save a local store, closing the Avenel location was greeted mostly with an air of resignation.

“Maybe it’s a little nostalgic because I’ve lived all my life in this area, but it’s just another retail store closing.” said Jim Schaber, a resident of nearby Iselin, who said his brother worked in the shoe department at Kmart for years. “It’s just another sign of people shopping online and not going out to retail stores.”

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