As Kmart closed its doors to customers for the last time on Sunday, it put a cap on nearly 25 years at the Imperial Mall and more than 40 years in Hastings.
Sears Holdings announced in April that the Kmart store in Hastings would be one of 68 Kmart stores and 10 Sears stores closing this summer. The Hastings location was the only store closing in Nebraska.
The 92,087-square-foot store at the mall opened in mid-November 1993. It included a portrait studio and Little Caesers pizza. It made up about a third of the mall’s total square footage.
It moved there from a 36,000-square-foot space at 123 N. Marian Road, which is now home to Head Start.
To make room for the Kmart store at the mall, workers demolished the 47,770-square-foot Woolworth’s store there.
Rumors about the move from 123 N. Marian to the Imperial Mall were addressed in Tribune interviews with Kmart corporate officials as early as February 1992.
Kmart’s specialist in charge of new store openings said then the store didn’t have a plan for a new store, but did say that the Hastings store would benefit from the company’s $2.3 billion renewal program that calls for the renovation and/or expansion or relocation of all of its store nationwide by 1995.
Kmart opened at 123 N. Marian Road in November 1975.
The announcement to close this year came two months after the company stated it was accelerating plans to shutter unprofitable locations. The closures represent about 5 percent of the store’s base, which is nearly 1,700 stores.
The closings follow a comprehensive review of the company’s locations that took into account store performance and the timing of lease expirations.
Sears Holdings has struggled for years with weakening sales, unable to keep up with companies that sell appliances, like Home Depot, or general merchandise, like Wal-Mart, or everything, as is the case with Amazon.com. The company has been selling assets to raise cash. In 2011, it operated 4,000 stores.
Sears is also shifting away from its focus on running a store network into a member-focused business where loyal shoppers receive incentives to buy. But those moves haven’t gained much traction with shoppers.
In the fourth quarter of last year, which includes the holiday shopping season, revenue at stores opened at least a year fell 6.9 percent at Sears and 7.2 percent at Kmart. That’s a key indicator of a retailer’s health because it excludes the volatility from stores that recently opened or closed. The company saw its fourth-quarter loss widen to $580 million, from $159 million loss a year ago.
Tom Hastings, president of the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce, said at the time of the announcement that given the retail climate of larger box stores it will be challenging to attract a similar-sized business into the area to fill the void created by Kmart’s departure.
As the announcement wasn’t completely out of the blue, however, that search has been ongoing for some time already.
“That will be one of our major discussions this week at our retail development committee meeting, as to what are the steps we can potentially take to try to get somebody in that space,” Hastings said Monday. “We may be looking at three or four businesses going into that space. It’s just something we will continue to look and try to do.”
It’s a tough time to get a big retailer to open a new store, he said.
“That’s not just Hastings; it’s throughout Nebraska and throughout the United States,” he said. “They’re looking at all of their locations very seriously and I’m not just talking Kmart, I’m talking any retailers. They have strategies they are putting forth. Sometimes our footprint here is so small that we aren’t even considered.”
Still, the city isn’t giving up.
“We are looking at multiple, multiple things that can be done,” Hastings said. “Yes, we’d love for some big retailer to come in and take that whole space but realistically we don’t think that will happen. Here again, that’s not out of the question and we sure won’t say ‘we’ll bury our heads in the sand and say it won’t work.’ We’ll do whatever can to get it full.”
Despite the pending loss, Hastings said he doesn’t anticipate a mass exodus of area businesses to follow Kmart’s lead. He believes Herberger’s, the mall’s other shopping destination location, will continue to thrive in Kmart’s absence.
Already, local officials are working to get tenants into other spaces at the mall.
“We have been working with the mall and the new owners probably for the last six to eight months,” Hastings said. “Hopefully, we’re getting some movement there. They seem very willing to work with us and trying to get tenants in that location out there.”