As Porky Pig famously said at the end of most Loony Tunes cartoons, “That’s all folks!” If he was in Oscoda this past Sunday he would have perhaps said that phrase to talk about the Oscoda Kmart.
The store, which has been in the community since 1984, closed its doors on Sunday, a victim of the mass closures after reorganization, bankruptcy filings and a litany of other issues with the chain over the last decade or more.
If you were to compare Kmart to the season of spring you could say that it came into the community roaring like a lion. There were newspaper accounts of hundreds of people lining up to get jobs at the store after it was built. By the 1990s the store expanded into a “Big Kmart” store, offering everything from car stereos to grocery items. If you lived in Iosco County and needed something (this is before another huge retailer came into the community and the introduction of online shopping) you were probably headed to Kmart.
But over the last several years it seemed the writing was on the wall for Kmart going out of business, not just in the state, but also in Oscoda. A lot of people did not believe it would leave the community, however. “It’s the only place we have around,” some said, or “They do too much business to leave this town.”
I didn’t want to believe that there was a potential for the store to close either. It was one of the first real jobs I had when I was in high school, and I learned a lot from working in the place, skills that I would take on to other careers and jobs I’ve had throughout my life. One thing I learned working in the building, stocking shelves, was that you were to make every effort to give great customer service.
For example if someone asked for an item, and it wasn’t on the shelf, we would always offer to take a peek in the stock room for the item. Even if I thought we didn’t have the item I would still go back and look, and maybe about one time out of 10 I was mistaken and the item was there.
It taught me how to multitask as well. You might be given a job on a busy day, like stocking the toilet paper aisle, something that could take a few hours tops. With customer requests, side jobs, being asked to gather carts from the parking area, or a thousand and one other jobs, it could take you all day to get the Snuggle on the shelves. I genuinely liked working there as a high school kid. I learned a lot about the working world and I also made a decent wage for someone without a high school diploma yet.
So going into Oscoda Kmart for the last time on Friday, to check out the last few days of sales, was bitter sweet for me. I get sentimental about a lot of things, notwithstanding Kmart, but I know that there is a reason for it to close. I do not know too much about the business world, but I know one thing. If you are not making profits at your business you do not keep it open. You close the door and you head somewhere else.
I’ve been to a total of three Kmart store closings, (West Branch, Alpena and Oscoda) and have had the same experiences during all three. The atmosphere is bizarre to say the least. One does not realize just how gigantic the space is inside of a Kmart store until they are in one that has no shelves and is no longer divided up into neat aisles.
It was the same with Oscoda’s store. It’s was a sea of white inside the building, whether it was the white ceiling tiles, the white walls, the white remaining shelves, or the white light coming from the florescent bulbs.
It looked like a new space, but you could tell it wasn’t as layer after layer of floor wax marked out where the shelving units used to be and where the customers once walked between the aisles filled with items. All the remaining items were pushed forward toward the front door and had markdown signs on them. Even though the store was closing, it wasn’t chaos. It was the third to last day for the employees, but they were still working, still at their posts, and still helping out customers
Workers were disassembling items, and the cashiers were asking customers if they would like to use the last remaining points on their account. I actually had 15 cents on my account that I never knew existed.
I walked out of there, with a few discounted boxes of laundry soap, some new washcloths, some candy, a box of microwave popcorn and a few bottles of extra virgin olive oil, and shoved my shopping cart into a stock near the exit. That is something that I did many times in my three years working there in high school. And on Friday I did it for the last time in my life, at least in Oscoda. It was a good store to have in the community, but now a new chapter has started. Farewell, Kmart.