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Once Kmart was a retail giant, after closing in New Jersey the number of stores fell to 3 Lifestyles

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David Porter – Associated Press

AVENEL, New Jersey (AP) – Familiar types and sounds are still there: shabby and faded floor tiles, tireless beige-beige colors, small clothes and refrigerators and just about everything in between.

There’s even a canned entry that starts, “Attention, Kmart Buyers” – except that it reminds people to take precautions against COVID-19, rather than warning them about the imminent sale of lingerie, as in the old days.

However, many shelves at Kmart in Avenel, New Jersey, have been picked up by hunters for deals when the store prepares to close its doors forever on April 16th.

After it closes, the number of Kmarts in the US – once well over 2,000 – will decrease to the last three containments, according to many reports, in the world of retail, which is now dominated by Walmart, Target and Amazon.

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

“You think about it all the time because shops are closing everywhere, but it’s still sad,” said cashier Michel Jaworski, who has been working at Avenel 2 for a year and a half. “I will miss the place. A lot of people were shopping here. ”

During its heyday, Kmart sold product lines supported by celebrities Martha Stewart and Jacqueline Smith, sponsored NASCAR car races and was mentioned in films such as “Rain Man” and “Beatlejuice”. He has been named in songs by performers from Eminem to Beastie Boys to Hall and Oates; in 2003, Eminem bought a 29-room mansion in suburban Detroit that once belonged to former Kmart chairman Chuck Konaway.

The chain has secured a place in American culture with its Blue Light Specials, a flashing blue ball attached to a pole that would encourage shoppers to sell out quickly. Part of its success was due to the early adoption of deferral programs that allowed customers who lacked credit to book goods and pay for them in installments.

For a while, Kmart was just a little bit: you could shop for your kids at school, set up the car and eat without leaving the room.

“Kmart was part of America,” said Michael Fox, an author from Baltimore who has written several books on the history of retail in the United States. “Everyone went to Kmart, whether you like it or not. They had it all. You had toys. You had sporting goods. You had candy. You had stationery. It was something for everyone. It was almost the same public visit as the shopping visit. You can spend an hour here. And they just instilled the American landscape over the years. ”

The decline in Kmart was slow but steady, driven by years of declining sales, changes in shopping habits and the approaching shadow of Walmart, which coincidentally began its life a few months after Kmart was founded in 1962.

Struggling to compete with low-priced Walmart and Target’s trendy offerings, Kmart filed for bankruptcy protection in Section 11 in early 2002 – becoming the largest U.S. retailer to take that step – and announced it would close more for 250 stores.

A few years later, hedge fund chief Edward Lampert merged Sears and Kmart and promised to restore them to their former greatness, but the recession and growing dominance of Amazon helped thwart those goals. Sears applied for Section 11 in 2018, and there are now a few stores left in the U.S. where there used to be thousands.

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

According to Mark Cohen, director of retail research at Columbia University in New York and former CEO of Sears Canada, it shouldn’t have ended that way. Trying to compete with Walmart on price was a stupid strategy, he said, and Lampert was criticized for having no experience in retail and seems more interested in disposing of the two networks ’assets at their monetary value.

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

“Retailers sometimes fall into the background because they sell things that people don’t want to buy,” he continued. “In the case of Kmart, everything they sell, people buy, but they buy from Walmart and Target.”

Transformco, which owns Kmart and Sears, did not respond to an email asking for comment, and the company’s phone number did not accept messages.

Across the country, some former Kmarts remain vacant, while others have been replaced by other large stores, fitness centers, independent warehouses and even churches. One former venue in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is now a popular movie theater.

Last month, Kmart employees in Avenel learned that the store would close.

Unlike 20 years ago, when news of Kmart’s imminent closure across the country sparked support from loyal shoppers, and Detroit Radio even launched a campaign to try to save the local store, the closure of the Avenel branch was met mostly with air resignations.

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

The closing was a little more emotional for Mike Gerdonek, a truck driver who recalled shopping at Kmart in Brooklyn and Queens in his younger years.

“It’s like the story unfolds before our eyes,” he said, sitting in his car near the Avenel store. “When I was young, I didn’t have money, so there was a good place to buy because the prices were cheap. And to see it go right now, it’s kind of sad. “

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.

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