Once a retail giant, Kmart nears extinction after New Jersey closure (2024)

AVENEL, N.J. — The familiar sights and sounds are still there: the scuffed and faded floor tiles, the relentless beige-on-beige color scheme, the toddlers’ clothes and refrigerators and pretty much everything in between.

There’s even a canned recording that begins, “Attention, Kmart shoppers” — except it’s to remind folks about COVID-19 precautions, not to alert them to a flash sale over in ladies’ lingerie like days of old.

Many of the shelves are bare, though, at the Kmart in Avenel, New Jersey, picked over by bargain hunters as the store prepares to close its doors for good April 16.

Once it shutters, the number of Kmarts in the U.S. — once well over 2,000 — will be down to three in the continental U.S. and a handful of stores elsewhere, according to multiple reports, in a retail world now dominated by Walmart, Target and Amazon.

The demise of the the store in the middle-class suburb, 15 miles south of New York City, is the tale of the death of the discount department store writ small.

“You’re always thinking about it because stores are closing all over, but it’s still sad,” said cashier Michelle Yavorsky, who said she has worked at the Avenel store for 2 ½ years. “I’ll miss the place. A lot of people shopped here.”

In its heyday, Kmart sold product lines endorsed by celebrities Martha Stewart and Jaclyn Smith, sponsored NASCAR auto races and was mentioned in movies including “Rain Man” and “Beetlejuice.” It was name-dropped in songs by artists from Eminem to the Beastie Boys to Hall & Oates; in 2003, Eminem bought a 29-room, suburban Detroit mansion once owned by former Kmart chairman Chuck Conaway.

The chain cemented a place in American culture with its Blue Light Specials, a flashing blue orb affixed to a pole that would beckon shoppers to a flash sale in progress. Part of its success was due to its early adoption of layaway programs, which allowed customers who lacked credit to reserve items and pay for them in installments.

For a time, Kmart had a little bit of everything: You could shop for your kids’ back-to-school supplies, get your car tuned up and grab a meal without leaving the premises.

“Kmart was part of America,” said Michael Lisicky, a Baltimore-based author who has written several books on U.S. retail history. “Everybody went to Kmart, whether you liked it or not. They had everything. You had toys. You had sporting goods. You had candy. You had stationery. It was something for everybody. This was almost as much of a social visit as it was a shopping visit. You could spend hours here. And these just dotted the American landscape over the years.”

Kmart’s decline has been slow but steady, brought about by years of falling sales, changes in shopping habits and the looming shadow of Walmart, which coincidentally began its life within months of Kmart’s founding in 1962.

Struggling to compete with Walmart’s low prices and Target’s trendier offerings, Kmart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 2002 — becoming the largest U.S. retailer to take that step — and announced it would close more than 250 stores.

A few years later, hedge fund executive Edward Lampert combined Sears and Kmart and pledged to return them to their former greatness, but the recession and the rising dominance of Amazon contributed in derailing those goals. Sears filed for Chapter 11 in 2018 and currently has a handful of stores left in the U.S. where it once had thousands.

Kmarts continue to operate in Westwood, New Jersey; Bridgehampton, on New York’s Long Island, and Miami.

It didn’t have to end this way, according to Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University in New York and former CEO of Sears Canada. Trying to compete with Walmart on price was a foolish strategy, he said, and Lampert was criticized for not having a retail background and appearing more interested in stripping off the assets of the two chains for their cash value.

“It’s a study in greed, avarice and incompetence,” Cohen said. “Sears should have never gone away; Kmart was in worse shape, but not fatally so. And now they’re both gone.

“Retailers fall by the wayside sometimes because they’re selling things people don’t want to buy,” he continued. “In the case of Kmart, everything they used to sell, people are buying but they’re buying it from Walmart and Target.”

Transformco, which owns Kmart and Sears, did not respond to an email seeking comment and a phone number listed for the company was not taking messages.

Nationwide, some former Kmarts remain vacant while others have been replaced by other big-box stores, fitness centers, self-storage facilities, even churches. One former site in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is now a popular dine-in movie theater.

Employees at the Kmart in Avenel found out last month that the store would close.

Unlike 20 years ago, when news of impending Kmart closures around the country prompted an outpouring of support from loyal shoppers and a Detroit radio station even mounted a campaign to try and save a local store, the closing of the Avenel location was met mostly with an air of resignation.

“It’s maybe a little nostalgic because I’ve lived my whole life in this area, but it’s just another retail store closing,” said Jim Schaber, a resident of nearby Iselin who said his brother worked in the shoe department at Kmart for years. “It’s just another sign of people doing online shopping and not going out to the retail stores.”

The closing packed a little more of an emotional punch for Mike Jerdonek, a truck driver who recalled shopping at Kmart in Brooklyn and Queens in his younger days.

“It’s like history passing right in front of our eyes,” he said as he sat in his car outside the Avenel store. “When I was younger I didn’t have any money, so it was a good place to shop because the prices were cheap. And to see it gone right now, it’s kind of sad.”

Once a retail giant, Kmart nears extinction after New Jersey closure (1)

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

Once a retail giant, Kmart nears extinction after New Jersey closure (2024)


Once a retail giant, Kmart nears extinction after New Jersey closure? ›

Once it shutters, the number of Kmarts

Kmart (/ˈkeɪmɑːrt/ KAY-mart), formerly legally registered as Kmart Corporation, now operated by Transformco, is an online retailer in the United States and operates six remaining Kmart big-box department stores — 3 in the US Virgin Islands and one each in Kendale Lakes, Florida (Miami postal address); Bridgehampton, ...
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Kmart
in the U.S. — once well over 2,000 — will be down to three in the continental U.S. and a handful of stores elsewhere, according to multiple reports, in a retail world now dominated by Walmart, Target and Amazon.

Where are the three remaining Kmart stores located? ›

On February 6, 2020, Kmart announced it would close 15 more stores. By April 2022, only three locations remained in the continental United States: in Miami, Florida; Westwood, New Jersey; and Bridgehampton, New York.

When did Kmart close in New Jersey? ›

Kmart is leaving the Garden State for good this fall. The struggling department store chain plans to close its last New Jersey location in Westwood in September or October 2023, according to NorthJersey.com. The store at 700 Broadway in Bergen County has already begun its liquidation sale.

Is Kmart still in business in 2024? ›

As of April, 2024, there are 12 Kmart stores in the United States. These stores are located in 8 states and territories and 11 cities. The state with the most Kmart locations is U.S. Virgin Islands, with 3 stores. This is about 25% of all Kmart locations in the United States.

What caused Kmart to go out of business? ›

In short, a “special strategy group” in the 1970s led to a lack of focus on the core merchandising business, causing growth to stall in the 80s and 90s. CEO Charles Conaway's subsequent fraud led to a chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2002, followed by a second filing in 2018 due to Edward Lampert's greed.

Where is the biggest Kmart in the world located? ›

… the world's largest Kmart is in Guam? Before coming here I was not even aware what a Kmart is. But indeed it is a very large shop for all kinds of food and non-food products, and apparently one of the main attractions of Guam for people coming from other Micronesian countries.

Is Kmart making a comeback? ›

In a bid to revive its long flagging sales, Kmart has unveiled a peculiar plan: selling stuff from companies that have gone out of business. The retailer, which is a unit of Sears Holdings , announced its plan this week, saying the strategy would help Kmart regain its luster.

Who owns Kmart now? ›

Did Kmart or Walmart come first? ›

KMart started as Kresges in 1899 but the first KMart named store opened in Michigan in 1962. The first Walmart opened in 1962 as well; I don't know which opened first. The KMart name replaced Kresges everwhere in 1977, and the store chain grew very fast in the 1970s.

What happened to Sears stores? ›

It was the 20th-largest retailing company in the United States in 2015. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 15, 2018, and sold its assets to ESL Investments in 2019. The new owner moved Sears assets to its newly formed subsidiary Transform Holdco LLC and after that, Sears Holdings Corporation was closed.

Is Target going to be Kmart? ›

Wesfarmers announced last July that Target operations would merge with Kmart to create a $10 billion discount conglomerate.

Are there any Sears stores left in 2024? ›

As of April 2024, there are 11 Sears stores remaining, with 10 in the mainland US and one location in the US territory of Puerto Rico.

Who owns the old Kmart headquarters? ›

After Kmart moved out, the HQ site had been slated to be redeveloped as "the Pavilions of Troy" with condos, retailers, offices and a hotel, but that proposal unraveled in the Great Recession. In 2009, an ownership group composed of the Forbes and Frankel families bought the roughly 40 acres for $17.5 million.

What was the Kmart scandal? ›

The government alleged that from June 2011 to June 2014, Kmart knowingly and improperly influenced the decisions of Medicare beneficiaries to bring their prescriptions to Kmart pharmacies by permitting the Medicare beneficiaries to use drug manufacturer coupons to reduce or eliminate prescription co-pays that they ...

Who is the CEO of Kmart? ›

Ross Mason - CEO - Kmart | LinkedIn.

What has happened to Kmart? ›

On 25th July 2023, it was announced that popular retail giants Kmart and Target will merge in a shock $10 billion shakeup. Wesfarmers, the Australian conglomerate that owns both Kmart and Target, announced they would merge both businesses to streamline their office operations.

What store did Kmart merge with? ›

Even if he failed, many stores still held tremendous potential value in the form of real estate on which Kmart and Sears stores were located. In 2005, when the former competitors officially merged into a single company, Sears Holdings Corp., the new firm ranked as the third largest retailer in the United States.

Is Kmart Australia the same as Kmart USA? ›

History. Kmart Australia Limited was created out of a joint venture between G.J Coles & Coy Limited (Coles) and the S.S. Kresge Company which was the company that operated Kmart stores in the United States.

How many Sears are left in America? ›

As of April, 2024, there are 13 Sears stores in the United States. These stores are located in 7 states and territories and 11 cities. The state with the most Sears locations is California, with 4 stores. This is about 31% of all Sears locations in the United States.

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