Kmart closing and end of an era

If you’ve not heard the news yet, several media outlets have reported that the Oscoda Kmart store is one of many across the nation that are going to be slated to be closed by December.

A report in USA Today has the Oscoda store as one of eight in the state, including the Midland location, that will be shuttering its doors by the end of the year. The report, however, stated that the list was not “official” but according to employees and others close to the situation the writing was on the wall. Hopefully if the closing is going to happen the employees will be able to transition to other jobs successfully.

Oscoda’s store has had a long history of providing people their everyday needs for a lot of years, but over the last decade or more the store’s been in decline. The heyday of Kmart seems to have passed, but I remember it when I worked there during high school the place was packed to the gills for the duration of the summer.

This was the late 1990s, and for a high school kid in Oscoda, working at Kmart was considered one of the more coveted after school gigs that one could get. I remember donning my red vest for the first time and being ordered to get shopping carts from the parking lot to bring inside for customers to use.

During the summer rush, with the store filled to the brim with downstate tourists buying everything they needed for their vacations – from a new barbecue grill to beach towels – some of us would spend nearly half a day just working in the parking lot, gathering carts and bringing them back inside. It was grueling work.

People were shoulder-to-shoulder in the store, and when you had the red vest on, getting from one end of the store to another was sometimes a difficult task as customers were constantly asking questions about items. Sometimes doing a simple task like stocking the dog food aisle could take half the day as you were pulled off into a thousand tangents helping customers.

As I worked there more and more I was trained in different areas, including the cash register of the garden center, which got a ton of business during the summer as people bought everything to get their yards in shape for the growing season. Lawnmower after lawnmower, bags of topsoil, fertilizer, citronella candles, shrubs, flats of flowers, trays of vegetables – you name it – went out of that place generating huge amounts of cash for the store.

I would have to say the most amount of cash I’ve ever seen in one place in my life, at least the lower five figures, was in the bottom of my till working in the garden center at Kmart in the summer of 2000.

But what happened? It’s nearly 20 years later and to see a Kmart store in a community is a rare sight. The Oscoda store’s shelves are bare, and the parking lot is nearly empty most of the time. Compared to 20 years ago when the parking lot was full on a summer day, it’s a stark contrast.

I’m not an economist, but I feel as if Kmart was not offering what consumers wanted, at the prices they wanted, and the way they wanted it. A lot of shopping nowadays is done through online retailers, like Amazon. A person can get on their site, buy their product they need and have it at their home within two days in most cases. People are willing to wait to get their shipments. 

But the fact of the matter is not everyone utilizes online shopping for their needs, they shop local, and even though a big corporation owned Kmart, going there is still considered shopping local. I hope that area retailers will work to fill the niche that the Kmart store provided for people who needed a few things from time to time.

One of those niches is clothing. I can’t name a clothing store in Oscoda other than Kmart and a few of the smaller stores in town. It would be nice to see a clothing shop where people can go get a brand new pair of jeans and a t-shirt come into the community, a place that is owned by a local individual.

I hope that area businesses will accommodate those individuals who relied on Kmart for their everyday needs if the store is indeed closing. I also hope that a business will step up and utilize the old Kmart building for an industrial purpose in the community. Hopefully those who were employed at Kmart will be able to find employment in the future as an era comes to an end in Oscoda.