Kmart: Is There Still One Near You?

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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?

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The Discussion


  1. We have 2 KMarts in our college town, along with a Super Target, Walmart & Sams Club

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    • Kate, let me guess… Bloomington Indiana? That is where my brother went to college

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  2. farmhousebarb says:


    I still like Kmart. The one in Bradford,PA went out years ago..when Walmart moved in. Since I don’t like them,I now have to go into Olean,NY to Kmart. It isn’t very busy. I only go a couple times a year,but I will miss it when it is gone. We used to take our kids to the cafe inside. They liked it and we could afford it!! I suspect they wouldn’t show much enthusiasm now!

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  3. The KMart in our town just closed this month and they took down the sign the next day. The site already looks long abandoned. Sad.

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  4. Our K-Mart on Beechmont Avenue in Cincinnati I do believe has it’s days numbered also. The store is always dirty, under-staffed and the shelves are only half-stocked. And it seems the employees just don’t care anymore.

    What I miss is Woolworth’s. You just got a warm feeling when you were in there shopping. And their lunch counter always made your mouth water.

    Yes, the good old days. How we miss them.

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    • I have been to that Kmart, Pam, but it was years and years ago…SIGH, yes, the stores have gotten very dingy..

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  5. My memories go beyond K-mart to the S. S. Kresge stores named after their’ owner Sebastian Spering Kresge ….the store in downtown Indianapolis where I worked as a teenager in the artificial flower department (yes it was a complete department) and glassware where I kept the glassware polished sparkling clean and setting on shelves in front of mirrored walls. What a great experience that was….. In 1962 when I was ready to graduate high school, leave Kresge and move on into an office work place, they opened Kmart. Not all that long there after, my younger sister joined the team of Kmart workers here in Indianapolis, transferring to CA in later years…and soon to retire after a long and fulfilling history with the company. Mr. Kresge was a very successful man in the retail business having been in partnership with Mr. John McCrory with several stores prior to starting Kresge in Detroit, MI in 1889. By the time he retired in 1917 at the age of 50 he held the status of a very kind and giving multi-millionaire. The foundation he established during his lifetime continues to give. When Mr. Kresge retired, Mr. Harry Cunningham took over as the new President and was the one to develop new market strategies. The first Kmart was opened in Detroit. Mr. Kresge passed away in 1966 at the age of 99, I believe in his home town of PA.

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    • Interesting, Sarah, thanks for that…Indianapolis is typical of some of the markets where Kmart has struggled, they just didn’t pick very prime locations to put their stores in Indy and it hurts them to this day…

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      • So far the only one I know of that closed in Indianapolis proper is the one on Pendleton Pike which is on the northeast side of town and not in the best of locations…..the only other two that closed in Indiana that I know of are St. John and Anderson, IN ….a goodly distance away. In Indianapolis there are six locations in operation. I don’t know how they are doing business wise as I no longer have contacts for here. I certainly hope we don’t loose them.

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      • I’ve heard there used to be a S.S. Kresge’s in Middletown (Ohio). This must have been before I moved there in 1963, or else I was too young to know it was there. That’s when Middletown’s downtown was vibrant! Enjoyed reading the background on Mr. Kresge.

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  6. northwest Indiana……some have been closed…..also…..some are still open…Yeah!

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    • I frequent four of the 6 Kmarts in the Indianapolis area and find that they are all clean, staff is nice, shelves are stocked and lighting fine…. so hoping that is a good indication that they are doing okay here.

      Who really bought who out….or was it a merger of funds with the intent of stabilizing one or the other….or both. I’ve heard different stories on the matter and wonder.

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  7. Carol Phillips says:


    We still have several Kmart stores here in East Tn. I love shopping there and hope they don’t close any of them. I would hate to see Walmart completely dominate esp. through default by way of bad business decisions. I have lots of nostalgic memories of shopping at Kmart too before Walmart was really much around here. I played around on their Commodore computers in the early 80′s when these were so new they hooked to a TV set and did nothing without a ton of typed in programming (i.e. GO TO Line 10, RUN…) They are a little higher priced but a bit better in quality in most things too.

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  8. I live near a KMart and sho there all the time. We had another one in another town near us but it closed about two years ago. I don’t think it is as busy as it was some time ago. It was a good article you wrote about KMart. I enjoyed reading it.

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  9. Christine says:


    We sill have our K Mart. It seems to be doing ok. I do shop there but we mostly go to eat. The cafeteria is now a Nathan’s Hot Dog eatery. I like the cheesesteaks my husband likes the corn dogs.
    But my best memory is of a S.S. Kresge. Mom would work up on the 3rd floor at Easter time and make Easter Baskets. No premade who knows when they were made and shipped in baskets. She filled them with all kinds of different candy and toys. My sisters and I would go down after school, it was within walking distance, and “help” her. We would eat the black jelly beans because we knew no other kids would want them in their baskets….LOL. Oh also all those Baby Binky hollow chocolate bunnies that would come in broken too. Well someone had to take care of the evidence, right?

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  10. I don’t know when they completely phased out the SS Kresge stores, but do remember that they were still in Indianapolis in the mid to late 60′s….perhaps into the 70′s.
    Took a minute to look up a little history on Kresge/Kmart/Jupiter (their discount stores).
    In 1987 they sold their remaining Kresge and Jupiter stores in the U.S. to McCrory, and in 1994 they closed the remaining Kresge and Jupiter stores in Canada.
    K-mart actually bought out Sears and changed the name to Sears holding (interesting that they would take the name of the company they bought out)……and one might think that the beginning of the down fall, and while it might have had an effect , the down fall was due in large part to the unscrupulous personal mis-use of the company funds by the President and the Chairman of the board.

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  11. The one near us is always dirty, and poorly stocked. A long time ago it wasn’t too bad, but I rarely ever go there now….

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  12. The last time I was in a K-Mart I was so angry by the time I left that I nearly walked my then ~6 year old daughter in front of a car. She’s 22 now. There is still one open near us. I don’t know how – the parking lot is always empty.

    Sears isn’t much better – twice now we’ve gone in there to see about purchasing a major appliance, and the service was so bad we just left. It’s like they actively try to discourage customers from buying anything.

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  13. Lisa Siegwald-Baird says:


    There is still a Kmart in Grove City,Oh..a suburb of Columbus. I have not been there in awhile though. I remember the Kmart in Hillsboro since my sister lives there. Not sure if it’s gone or not. I do know all the one’s here in Columbus are no more.

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    • Lisa, I am quite familiar with the Hillsboro K-mart and I’ll tell some stories about it sometime…but last I was there (about a year ago), it was still in business but greatly reduced in size….

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  14. It is unfortunate, but I’ve notice other retailers with less stock on their shelves as well…..and in lieu of making their isle more narrow like they use to in an effort to get in one more row of shelves, they are now widening their isles….I suspect to make the stores still look full and in good standing.. Having been in retail, I remember those marketing techniques so notice them now. With more stores vying of the same dollar and less discretionary income to spend we’ve come to a bad spot n the road I fear.

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  15. The only K-Mart I ever liked was in Seymour, Indiana and it closed years and years ago. There are still a few in towns around where I live now but I wouldn’t go to any of them if they were the only stores open.

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