The demise of the last Kmart in the state, located in Loveland, is not yet official. But as recent reports make clear, it's coming, sooner (almost certainly) or later. And so it's an appropriate time to sing the praises of a onetime retail giant that was never cool but always a reliable purveyor of products that just about everyone could afford.
According to the Wikipedia page devoted to it, Kmart peaked in 1994, when it had 2,486 stores operating in the U.S. This total obviously included major metro areas, but the company also built facilities in the sort of smallish towns that seldom attracted bulk discount sellers — like, for instance, Grand Junction, where I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s.
True, GJ had other department stores back then, including a Montgomery Ward on Main Street. But even by the standards of original five-and-dimes, Kmart was cheap. The commodities available on its shelves may not have always been of the highest quality, but they were accessible even to a kid like me, who had to pay for vinyl records with money earned from delivering the Daily Sentinel newspaper. I still have 45s in my collection with a Kmart price tag on them.
Cost, though, wasn't the most impressive thing about our Kmart early on. After all, there was just so much stuff there. Long before the period when enormous box stores began selling seemingly every doodad imaginable, the sheer volume of goods in this store was astonishing. Suddenly, Western Slope buyers didn't have to settle for the only version of a particular item in stock. They had multiples to choose from — just like people in big cities! And there were even celebrity endorsements, like the clothing line touted by Jaclyn Smith! Of Charlie's Angels! She may not have been Farrah Fawcett, but she was still mighty glamorous for our little town!
Granted, there were other aspects of the Grand Junction Kmart that are harder to romanticize. It always came across as kinda sketchy, thanks to dumpy displays, persistent clutter and a certain disinterest in tidiness that still stick in my mind — and judging by a nearly decade old Yelp comment still lingering online years after the joint was shuttered, not much changed after I left town. The writer begins by asking, "Is there a rating lower than 1-star?" before breaking into a vivid rant about the "godforsaken" place that ends with a list of demerits: "dirty store, no employees to help you, pricing incorrect, clueless employees, poor management" and "employees who are NOT trained correctly."
Okay, maybe that level of vitriol makes sense in light of competition from the likes of Target, which seemed positively classy in comparison with Kmart; the firm's entry into Grand Junction was treated like a blessed event. But back in the days of blue-light specials (yes, there was actually a flashing blue light set near racks of frocks, cleaning substances or whatever had been priced to move), Kmart had the appeal of an old-fashioned huckster merrily peddling crap — but it was the best crap ever.
This appeal faded with time even for someone like me. Given the incredible number of shopping alternatives available, from brick-and-mortar stand-alones to online sites, I haven't set foot in a Kmart for years. They struck me as amusing anachronisms rather than places that 21st century Americans actually patronized — sort of like Sears, with which it merged, more or less, in a deal finalized circa 2005 after the creation of the Sears Holding Corporation.
Today, Sears and Kmart operate under the umbrella of an outfit dubbed Transformco, which has been busily liquidating stores nationwide over the past year. The Kmart store finder page still lists two outlets in Colorado — the Loveland branch and one in Pueblo. However, the Pueblo Chieftain reported last summer that its area affiliate would shut down in December, and the store's phone number is no longer in service.
Around the same time, rumblings about the impending demise of the Loveland store began sounding, and with good reason. Take a look at this June 2019 in-store video tour, which finds the facility almost totally deserted:
The latest Loveland Kmart death knell has now been sounded by the hometown Reporter-Herald newspaper, and the paper's evidence includes job listings stamped with the all-caps announcement "STORE CLOSING."
Nonetheless, an employee at that Kmart answered the phone yesterday morning, February 11. When I asked about the store's fate, she transferred me to her manager, who gave me a corporate number to call. Although the digits connected to a nonworking line, the message pointed me toward a robotic customer calling tree — and after the system failed to recognize my request to chat with a media spokesperson, I finally managed to reach a human being tasked with taking complaints about mattresses.
This operator kindly located the actual media-relations department, and I left a voicemail message inquiring about the Loveland store's fate. Shortly thereafter, I received an email from Larry Costello, the PR director for Transformco, who specializes in Sears and Kmart. His three-word reply: "We'll decline comment."
So, we don't know specifically when Colorado will become a Kmart-free zone. But while plenty of consumers may respond to the last store's eventual departure with a brusque "good riddance," I expect I'll feel a pang of nostalgia at the extinguishing of the last blue light.
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