JESUP, GA. | If you want to shop for bargains at Kmart, soon you’ll eat up all your savings in gas money.
Sears Holding announced over a week ago it was closing more than 100 Sears and Kmart stores combined. In Southeast Georgia, that includes stores in Jesup and Statesboro and the Albany store in west Georgia. The closest will be in Tifton and that’s a hike from about anywhere.
The store in Jesup has hung on a long time longer than those on Normandy Boulevard and Kingsland that Sears Holding closed last year. As with the other closures, Sears Holding promised clearance sales, prices slashed, all sales final, etc.
On an appropriately dreary day Thursday, I asked a woman clerk at the Jesup Kmart when the sale would start.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We’re waiting for the liquidator.”
Not to be confused with “The Liquidator,” a 1956 spy thriller starring Rod Taylor. It’s probably not a good thing to be liquidated. If the Liquidator were some super villain, like the Penguin, we could call Batman, but alas no. It’s just someone who comes in and cuts prices until they ring the last nickel and dime out of the inventory. Then the employees get to sign for unemployment.
But not Gwen Parker, who was on the sales floor when the store opened in Kmart Plaza in 1977. She started out in fashion accessories and made stops at about every department in the store. She’s now in receiving making sure what comes off the trucks is what’s on the packing slip. Parker said she doesn’t expect many more trucks to back up to the door. At 69, she had made plans to retire Jan. 19 long before the Sears Holding said it was letting go of some more stores.
The store is showing its age but only somewhat. The tan and white floor tiles don’t all match, but they were all clean and gleaming last week, and you can’t go anywhere in the store without someone in a “Attention Kmart Shoppers” T-shirt saying hello.
“I will miss the people. They’re like family. It’s sad because there are people who need to work,” she said.
“I didn’t come here to stay this long, but I had to work so I just stayed on,” she said.
Asked what she would do, Parker said, “I take care of a sister,” and a co-worker figured, “She’s not going to be still.”
The store has a different feel from the Kmarts and the forerunner S.S. Kresge department stores where you could buy candy by the pound and take a gold fish home in a plastic bag. Sebastian Spering Kresge had built his S.S. Kresge chain into the one of the nation’s largest and opened his first Kmart in 1962, four years before he died. That was the same year Sam Walton, the owner of Walton’s 5&10, opened his first Walmart in Bentonville, Ark. Kmart flourished for years until Walmart began competing with it in about every town and city it had a store.
Parker remembered the early years when you could smell the coffee in the morning and the popcorn in the afternoon. The snack bar that cooked grits and eggs and made ham sandwiches is long gone and there’s no homey smell now. You can still get that at Target.
Nell McReady was in Walmart looking for some knit pants for her husband, who has been in a nursing home in Jesup three years. She drives from Screven to see him every day. As she checked out sizes in the pants, she already had a blue camouflage jacket in her cart for her “little grandson.”
“That’s really cute for him,” she said.
McReady said she has nothing against Walmart, but she prefers Kmart.
“I will miss their sales. I’ll miss the people. I’ll just miss it, period,” she said.
Actually, Kmart probably left a long time ago. The “Attention Kmart Shoppers” came from the old PA announcement of blue light specials. That’s when a store manager would direct shoppers to a sudden mark down in a particular department and a clerk would push over a cart with a cheesy little blue light flashing on it as shoppers crowded around.
I was announcing blue light specials at an S.S. Kresge on Lexington Avenue in Baltimore in 1970 when the draft board closed in on me. At least the Army didn’t make me wear a tie to work every day.
On one of my flights home, the big jet began descending slowly over my hometown with still about 30 miles to go in the dark before landing at the Greenville-Spartanburg airport. I looked down and saw a big red arrow beside Main Street that I knew was pointing toward the big K on the Kmart.
I wonder if they would give me a deal on the blue light, just for old time’s sake. They won’t be needing it.
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