Wednesday, February 01, 2017

An Ode to A Fallen Retail Giant: Kmart


"Attention, Kmart shoppers! This is your blue light special..." Although Kmart has tried on and off through the years to resurrect its blue light special (which apparently lives on digitally via its website) I bet it's been decades since you've heard those words announced in a Kmart store.

Heck, the last time I visited a Kmart was at least ten years ago, and I've never returned to one since. The store felt old, dirty, messy, and seemed dimly lit. The merchandise, aesthetics, and employees made Walmart look like a Sachs Fifth Avenue. And ever since Kmart purchased Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 2004 it's been nothing but downhill for the two retail giants. In fact, last month it was announced that 108 Kmart stores and 42 Sears locations across the country will be shutting down for good this year.

Did you know that Kmart once opened up a small chain of fast food restaurants, called Kmart Chef, at some of its store locations in the late '60s? The first one opened in 1967 at its Pontiac, Michigan store. They were free-standing restaurants that served burgers and the usual sides but closed in 1974 after operating at only 11 locations.

Through the years Kmart has experimented with introducing similar perks at its stores -- the closest thing to Kmart Chef today is K-Cafe, which serves a full breakfast menu in addition to other food options, but several of these have also been removed from remaining stores. Kmart also has a few odd features that never progressed past one operating prototype, such as Kwash (a laundromat in Iowa City) and Kmart Dental, an in-store dentist office in Miami.

Despite trying to revitalize their branding after 2000 and bringing onboard Martha Stewart's merchandise and other notable brands, it seems they just couldn't compete with the likes of Target and Walmart. It's a sad legacy for S. S. Kresge, the man that founded the company in the late 19th century (the first Kmart opened in 1962.)

So, let's take a look back at some vintage Kmart imagery from back in the day.


I love that there's a cop in this artist's rendering of the store's grand opening. Someone's gotta keep those unruly shoppers in line!


The very first Kmart to open, located in Garden City, Michigan.


The TV department in the early '60s.


The Kmart camera shop, in the pre-digital days when film needed to be developed.


A Kmart Chef restaurant...and double cheeseburgers for 44 cents!


The shoe department...so well stocked and neatly displayed!


Telescopes for less than $10....a bargain.


"And when we're done, you can ride in the trunk with the parcels."


Way neater and cleaner looking than the last Kmart I was ever in.


Rapid growth in the '60s.


A Kmart Grill restaurant.

Photo credit: John Strickler
Yes, even President Trump and his first wife visited a Kmart back in the day. The story behind this photo is that the Trumps stopped into the Sanatoga, PA store to buy bedsheets for Don Jr., who was attending Pottstown's Hill School in the 1990s. PLEASE -- no nasty comments -- I'm including this photo for its nostalgic context!


And that's one sign we'll probably never see the likes of again. RIP Kmart.

15 comments:

  1. hi Pam
    I've been to the first Kmart
    it's not that far from me
    there's one that's closer though
    I remember my Dad saying
    that Kmart will be there
    as long as I'm alive
    he was right
    he died in 2001
    refreshments used to be
    in the back of the store
    I would get a pop
    and my Mom would get a coffee
    we would share a small bag of chips
    my Mom passed away in 2015
    I sure do miss those good ole days

    ReplyDelete
  2. The last K-Mart in my town is closing down, and I'm bummed out about it.
    It was convenient. Not so many people, not the crowds, the noise, the sensory overload. You could go in there and buy a toaster, laundry detergent, whatever, and move at a nice easy pace.
    I hate going into Wal-Mart. I gotta buy some shoe-strings this month, a couple other things, and now I gotta deal with the parking lot, the noise, and twenty minutes trying to find what I came there for.
    As Iggy Pop once sang, "I'm buried deep in mass production."

    M.P.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The KMart I shop most often, although that equals probably six times a year, is one that is closing. It's 20 miles from my house and was the second KMart built in our area. The first was an anchor store for a mall back in the mid70s. When my son was a toddler and we were still pre-Walmart up here in northern Michigan, we often shopped and then had lunch at KMart. Their cafe pricing was great and the boy loved the chicken strips. I always loved those department store cafeterias, back to my own childhood and going to Woolworths with my Mom.
    I'm snagging a few good deals with this closing but nothing spectacular.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anybody remember Sernetts? That was kinda like a K-Mart deal. Back in the late '70's, early '80's.
    My mom used to shop in there, with me and my brother in tow, and we would look at the fish in aquariums while she was shopping around. They sold fish there! Also, they had one of those old comic-book spinner racks and I could usually nag my Ma to buy me a couple comics. I still have 'em!

    M.P.

    ReplyDelete
  5. We had a Murphy's Mart where I grew up. It had a cafeteria in the back of the store. There are two things I like to get at K-Mart: Joe Boxer pillows and Texas Steer boots. The K-Mart where I live closed down not too long ago.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I remember going to K-Mart all the time growing up, and now the last one in my area is one of those that was part of the recent announced closings. I last went to this particular K-Mart a couple years ago, and well....it wasn't the greatest place. I also hate that the Sears I went to all the time as a kid was announced in the recent closings. I remember their snack counter that reeked of popcorn, and getting Frozen Cokes there. I really remember their toy department, and getting all sorts of different 1980s toys there, from He-Man figures, G.I. Joe stuff, Transformers, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  7. A beautiful tribute, Pam. I grew up going to Kmart, and back in the '70s and '80s it was often a stop when my family went out shopping. Back then it was bustling with customers, buying up plenty of merchandise. I really regret how both Kmart and Sears, both venerable stores, have gone downhill. I do still shop at Kmart, especially during Christmas because they have layaway. (And Sears too.) Yet, it sometimes feels sad to see these places so much less busy than they used to be, and I guess I anticipate some day hearing on the news that they're closing for good. I hope that isn't so. It seems like so many things I used to love have declined or ceased to be.

    retroawesomeness.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks everyone for the comments. I have very little memory of Kmart as a kid; Sears and Caldor were the two places I remember going to the most with my parents.

    ReplyDelete
  9. How about those giant console TV's? LOL The TV screen wasn't any bigger, it just looked that way. I could rattle off the make and model of most of the cars in the first parking lot. The one in the forefront is a 1963 Ford Falcon. My dad owned a new one. I remember shopping at KMart with my folks (ATTENTION KMART SHOPPERS!!) and then later when I was grown. My last experience reflected your own and I never went back. KMart and Sears have only themselves to blame, the market changed and they didn't. Remember the Penny Marshall commercials?

    ReplyDelete
  10. The last Kmart here in Springfield, Missouri is in the process of closing. I've never had the experience you had with Kmart. Most in this area were clean and orderly. There were two close two my apartment. Soon there will be none. A few years ago, the one in my hometown of Lebanon, Missouri closed. People who worked there said it was one of the most profitable in the state. A person working in the Springfield store said corporate wanted to close the stores in Springfield, Branson and Rolla, Missouri (which were fairly profitable) and leave them in major markets where they were not doing good. To me this makes no sense to me.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Kmart lost out to Wal Mart just like every other store is now. And sorry, Pam, but I hate dumb Donald Trump and find it ironic that the super-elitist would have gone to Kmart to shop.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I moved to the US (Pittsburgh) with my mother from England in the 70s as a toddler and being European we would walk to Kmart daily. We loved it and would always go to the cafe and get fries on that little cardboard dish, great memories.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Nice article - I too had a the experience of entering a K-mart store (about 10 years ago), and it was like an abandoned store, that some of us had found, and we wandering around in!

    I remember a K-Mart by me in like 1980 has a sectioned off restaurant area ... and a cloud of smoke over it!

    Has everyone heard the (awesome) in-store Christmas music from K-Mart stores in '74? It's on YouTube, and rules!

    Thanks again!

    "Retro" Ron Albanese!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Pam, did you know K-Mart also tried KMart-Foods back in 1967 or maybe 1968? My mom was a cashier but too many hours on her feet; it was better work being a cocktail waitress in the local Sheraton lounge, she said. BTW, I remember almost every scene in your pictures; it had the most affordable shoes for a single Mom, and every KMart had that little Merry Go-Round in the front (that I ever visited), and the smell of fresh popped popcorn when you'd walk in. Great Post, and Regards, SAHD

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's great to hear from you, SAHD! I didn't know that about their food line and don't think I saw it mentioned when doing my brief research. Sadly I think Kmart's days are numbered.

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Like This Post? Share It!