Saving Kmart: It was successful in ‘03, but now?

Will the community rally again to save the local Kmart store from closing?

Do any of our readers remember when that happened in 2002-2003 — and it was successful!

The Express’ Page 1 headline of Jan. 30, 2003, declared, “Kmart store to stay open.”

This time? Probably not.

Kmart’s owner, Sears Holdings Corp., is divesting (that’s a polite word) and closing a lot of stores amid financial struggles.

Any local campaign to save the store would have to be big … REALLY BIG.

Kmart would have to see significantly more sales here. But let’s face it, that won’t happen as long as more and more people shop from their computers.

A look at the Kmart store parking lot pre-Christmas did not show the robust number of vehicles as in past years.

Since 2014, Sears Holdings, which also owns and operates Sears retail stores, has closed several hundred Kmart and Sears locations due to increasing financial losses as a result of declining sales.

The two retailers have struggled in recent years to stay competitive with other major retail chains.

This week, Sears Holdings reported net losses of $137 million, with adjusted earnings at Dec. 31, 2016 of a negative -$61 million. Sears same-store sales dropped 12.3 percent due to depressed sales of appliances, clothing, consumer electronics and tools, and Kmart same-store sales fell 8 percent at year-end due to depressed sales of consumer electronics, toys, clothing and grocery and household goods.

Kmart’s struggles date back to 1994, when the company closed 110 stores partly due to its failure to utilize computer technology for managing its supply chain. Additionally, the company maintained a high dividend, making it difficult to invest additional funds for improving its stores to keep up with more modern trends.

In 2002, Kmart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and successfully emerged from bankruptcy as the Kmart Holdings Corp. over a year later. Following its emergence from bankruptcy protection, the company closed over 300 stores in the United States, impacting approximately 34,000 of its employees.

At the time, Kmart also experimented with several prototype locations that featured improvements, including a new logo, layout, color scheme, wider aisles and an improved selection. The prototype locations never saw a broad rollout, due to the company’s weak financial state.

This week, the local Kmart store joined the ranks of those locations (150 more announced recently) to be shuttered.

And so, Kmart closing its doors along the busy (for Clinton County) commercial strip on Hogan Boulevard marks another milestone in the retail life of our local economy.

The store in the Millbrook Plaza has been an alternative to Walmart for those shoppers who want local shopping options.

Kmart’s predicament is amplified by the store chain’s failure to attract more shoppers despite being taken over by what many thought was a near impenetrable brand: Sears.

But Sears has even sold its iconic Craftsman-brand tools.

Just yesterday, J.C. Penney announced more store closings, including the Penney’s at the Lycoming Mall.

The Kmart store has nearly 100,000 square feet of space, and we’re told Millbrook Plaza owners Zamagias Properties is willing to partition the space based on a new tenant’s needs.

The Clinton County Economic Partnership already has begun marketing the site, with the owner’s blessing.

Kmart’s lease expires June 30, but if their liquidation sales go well, they’ll be out sooner.

So what might come in Kmart’s place? Our guess is as good as anyone’s, but frankly, we’re not optimistic.

Malls are on the sale block; many big box retailers are closing mall stores.

So how about an Amazon warehouse?

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