The once mighty retail chain is now down to four Kmart stores across America. Kmart blazed the trail for popular discount stores carrying discounted national brands. As such, it became the default shopping place to be for many Americans from the 1960s to the early 2000s.
Kmart Stores, Bluelight Special Owned the 1990s
At the height of its popularity, KMart stores numbered 2,400 and employed 350,000 workers. This was during its peak in the 1990s when its Kmart stores also housed PayLess drug stores, Borders bookstores, and Sports Authority.
American shoppers anxiously awaited for the daily “Bluelight Special,” a random daily deal in specific sections of the store.
Fred Hurvitz, retailing professor at Pennsylvania State University, followed the rise and fall of the discount retail chain. He said that Kmart “did well for 20 or 25 years” but then, competitors began to appear.
The most fearsome turned out to be an old nemesis, Walmart. With its hyper-efficient supply chain and ability to offer lower prices, Kmart was no match.
Kmart Stores Down To The Last Four
With two of the remaining branches scheduled to close, this leaves only four Kmart stores open in the entire United States. Two of the remaining stores are in New Jersey.
One is in Avenel, Middlesex County, while the other is Westwood, northern New Jersey. Meanwhile, the other two are Long Island, NY, and Miami, FL.
At one point of its mighty empire, Kmart stores numbered 40 in Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania and South Jersey suburbs. However, the last store closed way back in 2019. ““They were quite a happening in the 1960s and 1970s,” Hurvitz said. “Kmart was growing like crazy.”
Kmart Started The Same Year as Walmart and Target in 1962
Vicki Howard, author of From Main Street to Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store, looks back at Kmart’s history.
“It’s amazing to remember that [Kmart] started out the same year as Walmart and Target in 1962. Kmart had its day but wasn’t able to define its market as clearly as the other two discounters,” she said. In addition, the company didn’t have the best bargains or style.
Under hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert, Kmart merged with Sears around 15 years ago. However, Lampert was more interested in liquidation rather than restructuring.
As a result, both retailers filed for bankruptcy by 2018. Both Kmart and Sears stores closed by the thousands in recent years.
This left Lampert’s Transformco holding valuable real estate for sale or redevelopment. Willow Grove, Pennsylvania’s last Sears store will close within the next few weeks.
Kmart Followers Revive The Brand in Social Media
Despite the closure of its many stores, many fans of the discount chain still honor the company via social media. Many created pages and posts dedicated to Kmart nostalgia. Going on a search on YouTube will bring back an assortment of Kmart videos.
Ben Schulz, 33, is a graduate student in public history at the University of Wisconsin. Through research, Schulz pieced together the history and profile of Kmart and its many branches.
He developed a spreadsheet and map of all Kmart stores plus information on when they opened and closed. Schulz believes he knows why three out of the last four locations are in New Jersey and New York.
“New York has had a strong stance against Walmart, so that has helped [Kmart]. But they still have to compete with Target and Amazon,” Schultz said. Despite the acrimony, Schulz doesn’t think that the Kmart stores will stay much longer.
Watch the CBS Sacramento video reporting that the last West Coast Kmart closes In Grass Valley:
Did you shop at Kmart at one point? How was your experience compared to today’s big box stores?
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