Kmart in Craig liquidates memories, closes an era
Midway down the shelves of 50-percent-off perfume, below a box of something called Jovan Sex Appeal (price tagged at $16.99, so half of that would be a bargain $8.50) and Katy Perry’s Mad Potion ($30.99), was a narrow vertical box containing 1.75 ounces of Love’s Baby Soft.
Love’s Baby Soft! How long has it been? Didn’t the box used to be pinker? Was it always this wash of watercolor blooms in a design style best called Early Tampon Box? Is innocence still sexier than you think? (Note to whoever is compiling the official list of most appalling advertising slogans ever: Please put that one at the top.)
How long has it been?
The price tag says $13.99, so half of that would be $6.99. Is nostalgia worth $7?
So, yes, sitting outside Kmart in a nearly empty parking lot, a moment of disconnect. The last time this happened, it was the culmination of saved allowance dollars and several years away from a driver’s license. It’s a little strange to sit in the driver’s seat and hold a bottle of perfume that’s ... shaped how it is. Wow. This? Moving on.
A spritz on the wrist and: Why did nobody ever say anything?? Did it always smell like this? Is this the actual aroma of middle school desperation? What was the appeal of cheap baby powder made entirely of chemicals?
But before the wrecking ball of reality hits fragile memories, maybe that wasn’t the point. Maybe the point was the allowance money and the teen ‘zines carefully scrutinized and the pleaded-for ride to Kmart, because that’s obviously where you bought Love’s Baby Soft (especially since Woolworth’s and Montgomery Ward closed).
What to do now, then, that the Kmart in Craig is closing?
Where to get house coats with embroidered yokes and grandma’s-going-to-the-hospital slippers? Where to buy off-brand candy that’s more wax than chocolate, but so, so cheap? Where to get bike tires and high-mileage Pennzoil and Suave shampoo on a just-in-time payday?
Yes, OK, there’s a Walmart just down the road, which probably contributed to Kmart’s demise, just get all that stuff there. Sure. One-stop shopping and a Big Mac for lunch.
But on the way around the McDonald’s drive-through, glance back at the store that’s drooping and fading like a weeks-old carnation sagging against the side of the vase.
Does it mean anything when a Kmart closes?
The Craig store, which opened in autumn 1977 at the site that now houses Murdoch’s, is one of more than 60 nationwide that Sears Holdings will close in mid-December. The tentative last day for the Craig store is Dec. 11, but that depends on the inventory currently being liquidated.
It’s cruel to admit this isn’t surprising, but it isn’t surprising. The last time Kmart showed an annual profit was 2010 and in 2015, sales were down 7.3 percent from the previous year, according to the Sears Holdings annual report, marking five straight years of losses.
In 2002, the then-Kmart Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for a listed $17 billion in assets. Pundits were unkind.
“If Kmart went away tomorrow, the only people who would care are existing Kmart shoppers who don’t have access to a Target or Walmart,” Steven Roorda, an American Express retail analyst, told Reuters in 2002.
Christina Oxley, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, was similarly pragmatic about the Craig store closing: “I think the community has seen this coming for several years. There’s sadness, but the biggest reaction was huh, I thought this would happen several years ago.”
The problem, she said, is that Craig is paying the price for corporate decline. Craig, where there’s a sense of breath-holding and good grief, what’s next? Tri-State officials announced in September that Unit 1 of the Craig Station will be retired by 2025, and while they said there would be no accompanying job loss, it did nothing to bolster nerves already frayed by battered energy industries.
While the Moffat County poverty rate is estimated at 11.2 percent, lower than the national rate of 13.5 percent and Colorado’s 12 percent, it doesn’t feel lower. U.S. Census Bureau estimates have Moffat County’s 2015 population down by more than 800 from the 13,795 of the 2010 census.
Oxley said she hopes the Kmart closing won’t further contribute to population seep, “but when people don’t have options, that’s when they leave town. They feel like they might as well go shopping in Grand Junction, Silverthorne, Denver, so I feel that’s going to contribute to our leakage fairly significantly.”
Craig Mayor Ray Beck said the Kmart closing is sad for the community, “but that gives us an opportunity for something else that might be on the horizon. Craig is open for business and just because we have one or two stores closing, it doesn’t mean that’s the end.”
It’s the end for Kmart in Craig, though. Howard Riefs, director of corporate communications for Sears Holdings, declined requests to talk with anyone at the store and wrote this instead:
“We are making the difficult, but necessary decision to close the Kmart store at 1198 W. Victory in Craig. It’s important for you to know that until then, the store will remain open for customers. The store began its liquidation sale on September 22. We have been strategically and aggressively evaluating our store space and productivity, and have accelerated the closing of unprofitable stores as previously announced.
“We often hear from our members who are disappointed when we close a store, but our Shop Your Way membership platform, websites and mobile apps allow us to maintain these valued relationships long after a store closes its doors. As a result, we hope to retain a portion of the sales previously associated with this store by maintaining our relationships with the members who shopped this location.”
He added that the number of employees being affected won’t be publicly released, but most of those employees are part-time or hourly.
So. This is sad, not just for the employees, not just for the community, but for anyone who ever put something on layaway.
Kmart has always occupied a unique spot in the retail landscape, almost from the time Sebastian S. Kresge — source of that K in the mart — opened his first store in Detroit in 1899 (the first actual Kmart opened in March 1962 in Garden City, Michigan).
Kmart was long a place that smelled like stale popcorn, until the popcorn machines at the front of the store were removed, and some sort of unidentifiable rubber/plastic. Kmart smells like Kmart, and that includes whatever pinched pennies and frustration smell like.
It was the place to put school clothes on layaway and pay $10 a week all summer until the end of August, back when school started at the end of August. It was the place kids didn’t want their clothes to be from, so they’d lie and say the clothes came from Mervyn’s.
It seems that Kmart struggled to make itself the place people want to shop, instead of the place they had to shop, and sometimes it was! Sometimes 13-year-olds saved their babysitting money and made their way to Kmart before the winter dance to buy the Love’s Baby Soft or Polo or Exclamation! in which they would liberally douse themselves.
Kmart, in its partnerships with Martha Stewart and Adam Levine (?), has wanted to be Target and not be Walmart, and somehow succeeded in being inconsistent parts of both. Target is the place the paycheck-to-paycheck wish they could afford to shop at exclusively, and Walmart is the everyday reality.
And Kmart? It’s the place for sheets of the thread count “sandpaper” but which look super cute in a shabby-chic dorm room way.
Its prices have been weirdly uncompetitive.
As for the Kmart in Craig, the thing to do is visit on a recent Wednesday, when the perfume was marked 50 percent off and the words “pharmacy” and “garden center” were already ghosts on the exterior front wall, shadows of amoxicillin and cedar mulch no longer available. There were three acrylic Christmas sweaters, size XL and XXL, hanging crookedly on hangers and 60 percent off. There were boxes of Cocoa Puffs and a poignant display of 2017 calendars.
The store is contracting and contracting, everything on sale and for sale, including the jewelry counters and dairy coolers. Say what you will about Kmart, about the usual chaos of boxes in the aisles and six-packs of white socks abandoned on you-assemble book cases and great aunts bent over shopping baskets with their forearms resting on the handles, but it boasts a quirky abundance when it’s not dying.
It gave the world what would become punchlines: blue-light specials and “Attention, Kmart shoppers,” but what of that? It was exciting to hear those words over the tinny intercom, because it might actually be something good on sale! The transience and immediacy of that blue light, meant to convey a sense of treasure discovered, actually worked sometimes.
Kmart, as a place with all the things you needed, occasionally offered up the things you didn’t know you wanted, like a plastic oyster offering up a paste pearl. You could wander the aisles and decide that honestly, in the right light, who could even tell that this cost $8?
Kmart offered the ingredients for aspirational reality — not the Missoni-branded, Vogue-adjacent aspirations of Target, but the comfortable relatability of Good Housekeeping.
Kmart’s dark roots have perpetually shown beneath the blonde, but never has a customer felt not chic enough to shop there. Not when there are Obama, Clinton and Trump chia heads for sale just inside the front doors.
So with the Craig store closing, and on a recent weekday when store employees busily shelved and reshelved diminishing stock, the thing a sparse group of customers did was buy wrapping paper 25 percent off and Crayola crayons for double that discount.
The cavernous space didn’t quite echo — Oxley said Sears Holdings owns the lease on the building for several more years but so far there have been no nibbles — but it was close.
An emptying Kmart is all long, fluorescent lights and worn tile of a color best called “stained teeth.” The parking lot was vast.
And the Love’s Baby Soft, after sitting with it out in that stretch of asphalt, beneath a garish yellow STORE CLOSING sign, gradually started to smell better, like middle-class proms and paycheck Fridays and a little something left over for a Snickers at the check-out.