This is a follow-up to our November 29, 2021 article The Last Six Kmarts.
On April 16, 2022, the Kmart in Avenel, New Jersey, will close for good. With that, the storied chain – which dwindled to just six stores stateside at the end of the 2021, will be down to just three. There are around 400 RadioShack stores still around and over 600 JCPenney stores, mostly in malls owned by JCPenney’s ownership group. Just 21 Sears stores remain.
Once upon a time, Kmart was the place to go. You could buy Star Wars toys there. They had machines that would dispense something sort of like Skittles for twenty-five cents. It was amazing. Oh, I was a child at that point, if that wasn’t clear. As an adult, I went to Kmarts only when nothing else was available. A conveniently located Kmart was still worth checking out, but I would not drive past a Walmart or a Target to get to one.
As we consider that Kmart will absolutely go out of business by the end of 2022, and as we consider that there are more Lenny’s Shoe stores in Vermont than there are Kmarts in the entire country, we are called to ponder: just where are the last three Kmarts? And what happened to the three that have closed, or will close, since our original article?
The Unyielding: Hamilton, Montana (closed March 2022)
Kmart is a chain that’s had a lot of identities. One of its earliest is the red K/turquoise mart logo that you can see in this 1970s-era commercial on YouTube. The incredible Kmart #9808 in Hamilton, Montana, was not only the last in Montana, not only the last in the Mountain Time zone, but the last in this iconic color scheme.
Missoula’s KPAX reported that the Hamilton store closed in March. At the time, it was the only department store in the Bitterroot Valley (although nearby Ford’s continues to offer clothing and “western wear”). The former Kmart location appears to be vacant.
The Irreplaceable: Key West, Florida (closed March 2022)
The Florida Keys are somewhat isolated from the rest of the country and, as a result, were cushioned from Kmart’s demise a little bit. But in April 2021, the Keys Weekly raised the alarms that stores in Key Largo and Marathon would close this year and something would need to replace it to continue to serve those communities. Readers picked Target but got a Publix instead, at least in Key Largo. The Key West store, located in a former Ames, was the last one on the keys and one of just two in the state.
In January, the Weekly confirmed that the last Kmart on the Keys would “likely” close in March. A job listing posted that month advertised “fixture removal” jobs for $18 per hour. A YouTube user visited the store, documenting its sparse inventory and dated decor. It closed in March.
La Intersección: Miami, Florida (still operating)
The 114,000 square foot Kmart at Kendale Lakes Plaza serves a mostly Spanish-speaking population. That’s also true of the Walmart and Target that are less than a mile down the road, but the Kmart is located at a major intersection – exactly where it’s been since 1977. It’s an unusual example of a Kmart in a prime commercial location and one that’s served a specific community for a long time.
It remains one of three.
The Baby: Bridgehampton, New York (still operating)
With its distinctive blue light logo, the Kmart in Bridgehampton, New York screams “oh, right, Martha Stewart’s daughter used to live near Bridgehampton.” Located right in the Hamptons, this store is the last reminder that there was a time when Kmart wasn’t just a viable retailer, it was the choice retailer. In 2001, it introduced self-checkout, a feature that made Kmart look almost impossibly futuristic compared to slow-paced places like Target and Walmart. A longtime partnership with Martha Stewart meant that chic shoppers flocked to Kmart. Stewart even had a chance to acquire Kmart but it went downhill and, in 2009, Stewart’s merchandise line at Kmart ended after she publicly criticized the quality of the products.
It remains one of three.
The Weary: Avenel, New Jersey (closes April 16, 2022)
If you bought a bicycle at the Kmart in Avenel, New Jersey, it would take you less than twenty minutes to ride it to Amazon’s mammoth fulfilment center across town. “Even years ago, I though it looked so shabby it had to be on its last legs,” radio DJ Jeff Deminski wrote in May. How come it stuck around? Most surviving Kmarts are located in buildings owned by TransformCo, the parent of Kmart and Sears. The 1979 Avenel store was no exception, but TransformCo wants to sell the land for redevelopment and get out of the Kmart business – at least, the in-person Kmart business. More on that in a bit.
The Fighter: Westwood, New Jersey (still operating)
In August 2020, a YouTube user visited the Westwood, New Jersey Kmart location and filmed it. It’s pretty surreal, not in the least because the store has made a valiant effort to stay stocked. Shelves might not be full, but the store has few barren areas. Kmart appears to have adopted Best Yet as its store brand and other brands weren’t really on display. An coin-operated carousel ride and a presumably no longer operating Flintstones-esque amusement out front bring back memories of quarters dropped into thirty second rides outside other Kmarts long gone.
In the original article, Kmart.com didn’t get a mention. It’s not a physical store so why would it? But it’s worth mentioning, I think, to explain what TransformCo seems to be doing.
For all the headlines about Kmart’s “extinction,” the store’s virtual shelves are fully stocked. This has been a common shift for retailers in the new millennium: You can still shop Circuit City, Payless, RadioShack, Toys “R” Us, and Brookstone among many other dead-but-resurrected-online retailers. It seems like that’s the direction Kmart and sister retailer Sears are going, too, one that The Motley Fool speculated about back in 2017. A much smaller Sears/Kmart could linger almost perpetually, never really challenging established players like Amazon or Walmart but also never dying, if it balances its books.
Will it happen? Not at all.
I navigated to Kmart.com and decided to look at Samsung washers and dryers, because my laundry machines are in shambles and I need to replace them. I had no motivation for picking “Samsung” other than that it was the first option below Kenmore, which TransformCo owns.
The first result it delivered was a Frigidaire oven and microwave. This was not what I wanted. And, I noticed, it wasn’t sold by Kmart, but by a third party. Nearly all of the options were. Technically 100% were, but some of the third parties were Sears – specifically for Kenmore products. Only three were laundry machines even though that’s the category I picked.
Oddly enough, Sears.com had no issues showing me a Samsung laundry machine. Like, Kmart is so neglected that even its website is inferior to Sears, which really begs the question: why is it still around? Why not just shutter the last three stores and redirect the website to Sears?
There are still eight months to go in 2022 for that to happen, I suppose.