I wrote about this on my personal blog years ago, but I thought I would post about this off-topic theme here today. I am thinking about Kmart because I saw an article on CNN today that seems to indicate Sears (which owns Kmart) is a sinking ship and that Kmart will go down with it…soon. This,by the way, is not a totally off topic subject. Kmart factors into my story “Life of Pie” about 10 chapters down the line:)
I have a confession: I like Kmart. It’s now been almost 5 years since our local Kmart closed its doors for good and I miss it.
It was depressing when I would pass the empty, vacant storefront now in my hometown, but it has now been taken over by Big Lots. This photo is of a similar shuttered Kmart store in Texas. Lots of meaningless memories at Kmart, but nostalgia nonetheless. One of Kmart’s undoings has been their choice of real-estate holdings (stores were/are often located in kind of…less prime areas..it was corporate strategy to locate stores closer to urban cores, a strategy that backfired when urban cores imploded economically in many cities) . In my city, however, Kmart’s location was convenient.
Kmart has long been supplanted by the more popular Walmart, but no store chain should ever get too big and Kmart has acted as a clumsy counterweight against Walmart run rampant. Some other Kmart thoughts:
1) For me, Kmart evokes a sentimentality. When our family lived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates there actually was a Kmart, although I am not convinced it was an actual company-owned store. During the early 80s there were a lot of “knock offs” of western companies in Abu Dhabi, including a friendly neighborhood McDonald. Not McDonald’s, but McDonald, complete with golden arches and fries but having it your way meant mystery meat and some other unpalatable dishes. Still, there was a comforting connection seeing the Kmart sign there and then having the stores back home. Even if it wasn’t an actual Kmart, imitation is flattery, so it meant the store had some cachet.
2) When I was a kid, our city’s Kmart was a bustling hive of shopping activity. Saturday mornings all the registers would have lines and you’d always run into someone you knew. Their school supply section was second to none. Over the years, though, the aisles slowly emptied, the store became dingier, the crowds thinner, and the merchandise dumpier.
3) I remember when Dad would pay with his credit card at Kmart the cashier actually looked up the number in a little paperback booklet of stolen credit card numbers. No computer database, a booklet! That was Kmart’s defense against fraud in the mid 80s. It was time-consuming for her to actually thumb through this book each time Dad would check out and its refusal to adopt computer technology early on that contributed to Kmart’s decline.
4) God bless my Grandmother’s no-frills food tastes. Hmmmm, breakfast at Cracker Barrel or the Kmart cafeteria? A no-brainer for her: the $2 egg and pancake special at Kmart. She actually liked it better often boasting that Kmart served the best breakfast in town. Riiiighht.
5) When I was in the grocery business a few years ago, I was doing business with Super Kmart stores (which probably explains why I am no longer in the grocery business). SuperKs (not to be confused with Big K) is the retailer’s attempt to compete with Walmarts and Target stores that offer full lines of groceries. I’ve visited Super Kmarts in Hillsboro, Ohio; Cambridge, Ohio, and Morgantown, West Virginia. The one in Morgantown seemed busy as did the one in Cambridge, but Hillsboro’s store was as empty as church the Sunday after Easter.
6) It was a pitch black night driving in curvy roads on the edge of the Adirondacks. I had just given a talk at a library in Hudson Falls, New York and I think I had made a wrong turn someplace and had lost my way. But then I saw a distant, glittering light and as I got closer it was…a Kmart…the most palatial, crisp, sprawling Kmart I had ever seen with a glass atrium rising from the parking lot and crisp, clean green lettering (an inexplicable contrast to the usual blue and red lettering). Never been to a nicer Kmart than that!
7) If you want lessons in what not to do if you’re in retail, follow Kmart’s lead. They’ve done virtually everything wrong, yet they still are in business (barely), which stands as testimony to what an iconic brand it is. Kmart’s 10 Deadly Sins is a surprisingly breezy, interesting read that walks the reader through all the years of retailing mistakes this chain has made and makes one nostalgic for “what might have been” had they just done a few things differently. I picked up this book a few years ago at my library’s annual used book sale. So after all these negative notions, why do I like Kmart? Nostalgia and an appreciation for the underdog. Do you think Kmart will survive or will it go the way of Woolworth, Montgomery Ward and Hills? Do you have any favorite Kmart memories?