There was a time, and not long ago, when Kmart ruled the world of retail.
OK, actually it was long ago. As in, before the iPhone. In fact, when Kmart was king, most people couldn’t even dream of the day when we’d all be texting and driving.
Back then, the big box department store chain became famous for its “Blue Light Specials” and intercom system that randomly began a flash sale with “Attention, Kmart shoppers.”
But that was long ago in a land far away, and Kmart’s days are clearly numbered. According to the Associated Press, now that a location in New Jersey has closed this week, only three stores remain. There once were more than 2,000 worldwide.
Thanks a lot, Walmart and Target.
Kmart was always more than just a department store. Because of its large presence in the 1970s and ’80s, it often became synonymous with pop culture, garnering mention in movies, books and music.
“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,'” the AP wrote. “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.”
Kmart was basically Walmart before Walmart was Walmart, though Kmart customers didn’t have the, uh, questionable reputation of their Walmart counterparts. Kmart was family. Walmart is more like the nonfamily members who aren’t invited to attend, but show up anyway.
“Kmart was part of America,” said Michael Lisicky, a Baltimore-based author who has written multiple books about U.S. retail history, told the AP. “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 was retail before the internet, before social media, before people wasted their lives away arguing with strangers about nothing on Facebook and Twitter. It was a great place.
But like so many things from the era, Kmart has fallen by the wayside to make room for excess.
“Retailers fall by the wayside sometimes because they’re selling things people don’t want to buy,” Columbia University director of retail sales Mark Cohen told the AP. “In the case of Kmart, everything they used to sell, people are buying but they’re buying it from Walmart and Target.”
But hey, at least we still have Sears.
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