Sunday, September 26, 2021

Until the Blue Light Fades Away


Kmart #3074
14091 SW 88th Street, Miami (Kendall), FL - Kendale Lakes Plaza

     For many years a visit to Kmart wasn't anything of note. As the predominant discount retail chain in most cities and towns across America, Kmart was the go-to for the majority of life's purchases - from the new kitchen decor in the spring to the new Christmas tree in winter, and everything else in between, Kmart was always there, that big red 'K' shining bright whenever you needed them. Kmart became an American icon as they grew into the nation's retail powerhouse, giving us the iconic Blue Light Specials and its synonymous introduction, "Attention Kmart shoppers...". However, as we all know, competitors like Walmart and Target began to rise to power in the 1980's, gradually expanding nationwide to eat into Kmart's market share. Then other factors like mismanagement, aging stores, the internet, and a man named Eddie Lampert got thrown into the mix of woes that would eventually bring Kmart to its current fate - a sad shell of its former self, limping along with only 15 stores remaining as of the publication of this post - a relic of retail past that somehow refuses to die, yet provides fascination to those wanting a small glimpse at this once mighty American retailer. Like many people, I was one who grew up with Kmart, so I have lots of memories of shopping their stores and watching the company at both its highs and lows, although most of my life has spanned that of the company's lows. Still though, I have lots of great memories of Kmart, great memories I'll keep with me going forward in this crazy retail adventure of mine that I started. That being said, I know a lot of people out there feel the same way, so I decided to make an exception to the blog's usual supermarket focus for today's Kmart tour. And today's tour isn't just any Kmart tour. Sure, I have a few Kmart tours in my archives collecting virtual dust from years ago, but this tour is different. This is a Kmart store photographed in 2021 - a tour of one of the few holdout locations of this once great retail empire. I know a lot of you are also intrigued at just what Kmart's few remaining stores are like these days, so I figured before this tour collects virtual dust in my archives for years like the others, let's take a look at the place while the photos are still somewhat current! I think this will be a fun little diversion from our usual content, and hopefully you guys will like this (now rare) treat of a visit to a 2020s Kmart store.

     Of those 15 Kmart stores left as of September 2021, it just so happens that two of them are located in Florida, those being the Miami/Kendall and Key West locations. As the number of remaining Kmart stores began to fizzle down into the 30s, 20s, and now teens, it made me want to take the trek to Miami to see Kmart at least one more time before all the remaining stores closed for good. In July 2021 I got my chance, and off to Kmart I went! This particular Kmart location, located in the Kendall neighborhood of Southwestern Miami, is about a three hour drive from where I live. For many people, a three hour drive to Kmart is pretty good these days, especially with how few locations are left (and that most of the remaining locations are clustered around New York City, with the two in Florida, one in Montana, and one in California rounding out the rest of the US mainland Kmart stores if I remember correctly). While nothing about Kmart's current state makes any sense to me, I believe most of the remaining stores have lasted as long as they did purely because they are the only major retail establishment around for miles, and generate some kind of decent income due to their isolation. That sentiment holds true for the Key West Kmart, as it's the only general merchandise retailer in Key West (and officially, the entirety of the Keys now, following the closure of the Kmarts in Key Largo and Marathon in early 2021). So the Key West Kmart has a captive audience in its favor (like most of the areas that still have a Kmart store remaining), however, I don't understand how this Miami location has made it into the 2020s. There's both a Walmart Supercenter and a Target within 2 miles of this Kmart, yet somehow Kmart is still here, so it's not like isolation has helped with this store's longevity. I do know that Miami was traditionally a strong market for Kmart in years past (as Miami-Dade County once had 7 Kmart stores in the mid-2010's - a nice cluster for the chain at that time, when most major metro areas were lucky to have a single Kmart left). Most likely this store's longevity is a fractured testament to Miami's once great love for Kmart, and for whatever reason that's kept this store going until now. However, I really don't have any better explanation to give, so won't question this store's reason for being any further. The Miami Kmart is still here, and may it stay here for as long as it wants to, as it provided me with the opportunity to see what one of Kmart's final few stores was like, as well as relive my memories of shopping at Kmart from years ago.

     Opening on November 3, 1977, Kmart was the largest anchor of the new Kendale Lakes Mall, an open-air mall with Luria's serving as co-anchor at the opposite end of the complex. The Kendale Lakes Mall was the retail centerpiece to the new neighborhoods surrounding the Kendale Lakes Country Club development, in which the mall was built (and although pronounced the same, the country club chose to spell 'Kendall' as 'Kendale' - maybe the country club's spelling was supposed to look fancier?). Following the closure of the Luria's chain in 1997, the Kendale Lakes Mall was redeveloped into a big box power center, with the entirety of the open-air mall and the Luria's building coming down for the redevelopment. The Kmart building is the only original piece of the main mall building to remain in the present day, the Kmart building's design still matching that of the original mall's architectural motif. One of the plaza's outparcel buildings retained the original architectural motif as well, and interestingly, kept the design even more original than Kmart did!

     As this store's life progressed, the building was expanded out the left side in the early 1990's to the size it is today (although that early 1990's expansion comprises the entirety of the salesfloor space that's now blocked off from public access, but we'll take more about that later in the post). Kmart upgraded and remodeled this store once again to the Big Kmart design in 1996, at which time the awning was modified and the interior rearranged. Kmart remodeled this store one last time around 2007 to the red/yellow/green wall decor, and that's what we'll see once we step inside.

     The 2007-era remodel also brought the current logo to the store's facade, the only facade modification made at that time. The 2007 remodel was more of a paint and signage refresh than anything, as the inside still feels like your average 1970's built Kmart store.

     Under the awning we go, the main entrance located straight ahead. In the distance the store's garden center can be seen, the garden center moved to the front of the building to accommodate the early 1990's expansion. In recent years, the garden center was decommissioned entirely, the selection of live plants for sale condensed onto a small table to the left of the main entrance.

     So without further ado, let's step through those doors for a look at what a Kmart of the 2020's is like...

     The Kendall Kmart is set up with the hardlines departments occupying the left half of the building, and softlines to the right upon entering. We're going to tour this store beginning with the hardlines side of the building, looping around into softlines as we get toward the end of the post.

     To begin, here's a look across the main front aisle into the hardlines side of the store. Greeting cards, party supplies, health & beauty, and pantry can be found to my left, with the home departments to my right, after those few racks of clothes.

     Spinning around 180 degrees from where I took the previous photo, here's a quick preview of the store's front end and some of the softlines departments. We'll see more of this area later, so let's press on into the hardlines side of the store:

     Moving further into the left side of the building, the 2007-era department sign for health and beauty appears. If you're thinking this store is looking a bit dark and dreary only a few photos in, I'd just like to note I arrived here right as the manager was unlocking the front doors to open the store. For the first 10 minutes or so of my visit, only some of the overhead lights were on. It took a while before all the lights eventually kicked on, which brightened the place up a bit. That at least took care of the dark part of that description - as for the dreary part, well, that's just something ingrained into the ambiance of modern Kmart...

     While some of the 15 remaining Kmart stores still have operational pharmacies, this was not one of them. This store's pharmacy has been closed for a little while now, appearing to have shut down in early 2019, as that's when Florida's pharmacy license database shows the license to have expired. Besides rolling down the shutters and hanging some posters over the windows, Kmart did nothing to hide the old pharmacy box, like some other Kmart stores had done.

     Looking down one of the health and beauty aisles, here we see the first of many examples of one of the biggest problems plaguing Kmart right now: supply chain issues. With Kmart's store count so low and financial situation a bit of a mess, many suppliers don't want to deal with the company. That's left shelves looking empty, and causing the remaining stores to haphazardly downsize just to hide how empty the place would look otherwise. What little merchandise Kmart is still getting is strategically placed on the shelves to make them look as full as possible, which you can see here. You can obviously tell there's something amiss in this aisle, but I have to give the store's employees a lot of credit for trying to make these aisles look neat and full, and having not totally given up yet.

     Poking out from health and beauty, here's a look straight ahead at some of the softlines department (women's clothes being the department I'm looking at here). While Kmart is struggling to get their hands on hardline merchandise, they seem to be having no trouble finding clothes to sell. The clothing/softlines departments were the most well stocked part of the store (and the same held true in my recent experiences with Sears as well). Eddie is getting clothes from somewhere, even if his tactic now is closing one store to use that merchandise to restock another!

     Returning to hardlines, we venture past the old pharmacy box into paper goods, which immediately follows. The photo above looks across the store's front wall, with the shelving and product once again strategically placed to make the area look full (even though it's obvious Kmart is cheating with the way these shelves are arranged).

     Office supplies follow paper goods, with a look down one of the aisles in that department.

     With any Kmart visit, you never know what kind of blasts from the past you may still find for sale on the shelves. Mixed in with the office supplies, I spotted this notepad, which is themed off the "Team Edward" and "Team Jacob" rivalry created from the Twilight Saga of books and movies (which peaked in popularity around 2008 or so). If there are any devotees to either of these groups still out there, Kmart has you covered!

     Fictional character love debates of the 2000's aside, we emerge from office supplies for a look at the seasonal department. This smattering of boxed patio furniture was the bulk of the seasonal department, with some additional outdoor stuff in an aisle to my left.

     Nearing the pantry department, we see the dividing wall between the current salesfloor and the empty space created from the store downsizing. A row of shelves were used to block off that side of the building, with some plywood door access points to allow employees to enter the space. While it varied from store to store how portions of the salesfloor were blocked off, this location did a good job of hiding the fact the store shrank (and really, bringing the salesfloor back to its original 1977-early 1990's size). All the original department signs from the 2007 remodel were moved into place with the new department's location, and the new layout flows quite seamlessly, tricking shoppers into thinking this was always how the place was supposed to look.

     Pantry is the one hardline department that seems to not be having any supply issues. From what I've read, Kmart has a supply agreement with C&S Wholesale to supply food items to the remaining stores, and C&S has been supplying the stores regularly. Unlike what we've encountered so far, there's no faking to see in this aisle - this aisle is legitimately stocked well!

     Moving over to the cleaning supplies, I was very surprised to see some of Kmart's Smart Sense branded product for sale. I didn't think anything was still being made under the Smart Sense name following the 2018 bankruptcy of Sears Holdings, however, it also wouldn't surprise me if this laundry detergent has been sitting on this shelf since 2018...

     Pet supplies were also well stocked, leading me to believe pet supplies are also coming in via the C&S supply agreement.

     From the new partition wall, here's a look across the salesfloor. Approximately one quarter of the prior space had been blocked off, so there was still a decent amount of room left for the remaining merchandise. By this time, all the lights in the store finally kicked on, which cheered the place up a bit at least (hey, every little bit helps!). The above photo also rounds out our coverage of the front side of the hardlines departments. Let's take a stroll down that new partition shelving to the back of the store, where we'll continue our tour:

     Now at the back of the store, here's a look down the back main aisle as seen from the partition. Sporting goods, hardware, and toys occupy those aisles along the back wall, with furniture and housewares to my right.

     Cutting down an aisle, here's a view down the back wall itself, where we get a nice look at the 2007-era paint scheme.

     Back in sporting goods, Kmart's merchandising woes begin to become rather clear. This aisle was home to a lot of the same product, spaced out to make it look full. However, if you needed some fun stuff for the beach or supplies for the next Florida python hunt, it looks like Kmart has enough in this aisle to get you by.

     Looking out from one of the sporting goods aisles, here's another look toward housewares. Much like the rest of the store, housewares were also stocked with a lot of the same product spread out to make the shelves look fuller than they really were.

     In the back of the sporting goods/toy department, we find this little hallway that leads to the layaway counter and restrooms. As far as I'm aware, Kmart still offers layaway services on what product remains for sale.

     Here's another look toward the layaway counter, as seen from the main aisle. Some random refrigerators were plopped in between the beach bags and toys, because why not?

     From the main back aisle, as we continue our loop around the store, housewares eventually transitions into the women's clothing department, which takes up a good chunk of the middle of the salesfloor.

     Returning our attention to the aisle itself, we see women's clothing lining the right side of the main aisle, with toys starting to my left.

     The 2007-era decor included product posters that corresponded with many of the departments, such as toys (seen above), electronics, appliances, clothing, and cosmetics to name a few. When this store downsized and began rearranging departments, it appears most of those other hanging signs were lost, with these signs in toys and another one we'll see later in infants being the only survivors.

     A dying retailer selling a game based off another long-gone retailer - I sense a bit of irony here.

     Some more product in the toy department. Here we're looking at the Lego section, which surprisingly, was still stocked with semi-current sets (most of which were spider wrapped, interestingly). I thought Lego cut off Kmart in the 2018 bankruptcy, but apparently some kind of deal was made to send a little bit of new product in.

     Leaving toys, the remainder of the tour will now focus on the softlines side of the store, which we've had a few glimpses of so far. The photo above looks from the back of the store toward the front, looking down an aisle that cuts through women's clothing. The former pharmacy box can be seen in the background too.

     Like I said before, Kmart had lots and lots of clothes for sale, as you can see in the image above. Really, that image doesn't look too different than we'd see in a Kmart photo I took back in 2015, the days when Kmart was still slipping but still somewhat put together.

     As I said at the beginning of this post, I visited this store in July 2021. Being this visit was in July, I don't think we should be seeing two racks of Christmas sweaters for sale! (And knowing Kmart, this wasn't any Christmas in July promotion either - I'm pretty sure these sweaters have been sitting here for a while...) If anything, $3.99 isn't a bad deal for a Christmas sweater, so maybe July is the right time to be stocking up on these!

     In addition to Christmas sweaters, there was ample supply of these puffy winter vests for sale too - in July, in Miami, may I add. I think Kmart is just throwing anything they can get their hands on onto the shelves anymore, as I wouldn't have sent this many puffy winter vests to a city with an average January low of 63 degrees Fahrenheit if I could control my merchandise better. If nothing else, this part of the store will be looking quite full for a while...

     Beyond the puffy vests and Christmas sweaters, we see more of the women's clothing department, as well as the front entrance in the distance.

     More clothes...

     Even more clothes...

     Entering the men's clothing department, we find the store's fitting rooms, which were still out of service as an effect of the pandemic. A display of shirts was placed in front of the fitting rooms to keep people from trying to sneak in to use them.

     Over in men's clothing, someone was trying to be creative with the merchandising, hanging these shirts on display like this. At least the employees here were still trying their best to make the store presentable, as I can only imagine the uncertainty they feel day to day about the longevity of their jobs.

     As part of the COVID pandemic era precautions, Kmart went through and installed a bunch of one way labels throughout the aisles in the store, like the ones seen here (and previously throughout the post). As with most stores, no one was enforcing the one-way thing, and these labels are probably more of a relic now than anything else, as most stores dropped this procedure months ago. One good thing about Kmart though, in this era of the COVID pandemic, it's a great place to socially distance yourself with ease from the three other people shopping in here at any given time! (Jokes aside, as I was getting ready to leave, there were a few more people showing up to shop here, with most of those people meandering through the clothing departments).

     Getting closer to the far right side of the building, we find the shoe department, which was tucked between women's intimates and the children's clothing departments.

     From the right side of the building, here's a look back at what we've covered so far.

     In a few places throughout the store, I saw these homemade advertisements promoting this store's Facebook page, which is still actively updated as of September 2021 (and quite frequently too). I feel that's yet another testament to how the employees still care about this store, trying to promote it and its offerings on their own online.

     Surprisingly, Kmart was still producing new promotional signage, such as these hanging signs promoting back to school shopping. Knowing Kmart, there is a chance these signs were saved from a previous year, but I don't know for sure.

     Leaving the back of the store, here's a look down the right side of the building. Here we find children's clothing, starting with boys' to my left, with girls' and toddlers' following beyond that.

     Moving further down that same aisle, here's girls' clothing.

     The shoe aisles once again, as seen from the opposite side.

     In the distance beyond all those clothes, I spy with my little eye something interesting...

     …and while 70% off clearance is what may interest most people, my attention, of course, was gravitating toward that extremely obvious shell of an old KCafe in the corner...

     While I'd have guessed this KCafe had been closed for years, according to Google Streetview, it actually lasted until 2018. Even in Kmart's futile position in 2021, there are still a few KCafes open, shockingly enough. Like I said, there's absolutely nothing about Kmart (or Sears) that makes any sense to me any more, so I should just stop trying to make any sense of it. I don't even know if Eddie Lampert can make any sense of what his company is doing now.

     Following the KCafe's closure in 2018, nothing was done to hide the fact this was once the old cafe. Some shelves were thrown up, and this area became home to a portion of the infants department, a use for an old KCafe I'd never seen before.

     Exiting the old KCafe, here's a look across the store's front wall. More infant supplies occupy this area, with the customer service desk and check lanes following.

     In the 2007 remodel, the customer service desk was moved from its Big Kmart-era home inside an island by the front doors to the opposite side of the check lanes, abutting the infant department. I didn't get a straight-on view of the service desk, but you can see part of it in this photo, behind the red lottery podium.

     Before we get into any more detail of the front end, we still have a little bit more of the main store to explore. The above photo look across the front aisle, looking toward the jewelry counter and the front lanes.

     The jewelry counter was also replaced and modernized in the 2007 remodel with the counter we see here.

     Passing by jewelry and the front end, here's one last look into the hardline side of the store. The above photo isn't much different than the very first interior photo we saw earlier. The only difference now is that all the lights are on. With all the lights on, you get a much different impression of this store than my original dark photo gives off.

     Turning around, the check lanes come into view in the distance. This store had 10 check lanes total, which is a decent amount for a modern Kmart store.

     The previous customer service desk would have been located here. When the desk was moved during the last remodel, this space became home to a new cart corral and space for promotional items.

     Here's a reverse view of the check lanes, with lane 10 poking out from behind that pole.

     As I waited in line to make my purchase, the one open lane at the time happened to give me a really nice view of the store's thank you sign, which while missing a letter, still gets its point across.

     Purchase in hand, we sadly must leave this modern retail rarity - an operational Kmart store.

     Exit in sight, I said my good-byes to Kmart, however, I can't say with certainly this will be my last ever visit to a Kmart. When this store's day with fate comes, I could very well be tempted to come back this way again for another farewell to Kmart trip, as crazy ol' me will find some reason to justify another three hour drive to Kmart!

     Back outside, here's a look across the front of the building toward the decommissioned garden center, which was added on as part of the store's early 1990's expansion.

     Following the garden center's decommissioning, its exterior sign was also removed, its labelscar peeking out at the top right corner of the image.

     By whatever mysterious magical forces are keeping this place open, Kmart will continue to serve the people of Miami's Kendall neighborhood, giving both locals and the crazy people who drove three hours to see this place a glimpse at what remains of this once mighty American retailer. Whatever your thoughts are about Kmart in its current state, you can't deny the impact Kmart has had on retail as a whole through the years, bringing most communities their first glimpse at the modern discount big-box store. I can only imagine the spectacle this place was upon its opening in 1977 - back in the days when Kmart was king!

     As we wrap up our tour of the Kendall Kmart, we round out our collection of labelscars with this one of the Little Caesar's Pizza Station sign. Three years removed by this point, this scar is still quite glaring, but if you're on a quest to find retail relics by the boatload, Kmart is the place for you!

     Extending out from the side of Kmart is the big box center that replaced the original open-air mall. The modern big-box center isn't anything too exciting, so the only photo I got of it was of the Navarro Pharmacy that was attached to the side of the Kmart building. Navarro Pharmacy is a chain of pharmacies located around Miami, which was bought out by CVS in 2014. While heavily influenced by CVS these days, Navarro still operates under their own name and format. From what I understand, Navarro's stores are larger than the typical drugstore, carrying more general merchandise products, and have a heavier Hispanic-product influence. I would have liked to go inside here to see what Navarro's stores were like, but I didn't have the time - I had a packed schedule this day. If I make it to this Kmart again, I'll have to pop in here and check it out.

     To wrap up this post, I'll do a few historic aerial images to show the plaza's transformation from a mall into a big box center. The image above is of the plaza in its current form in 2021. Kmart is the large building with the dark roof at the far left of the main strip, with El Dorado Furniture occupying a former (and now unrecognizable) Builder's Square at the other end of the plaza.

     Jumping back to 1999, here's the big box center in its original form. Fairly new at this point, the big box strip originally housed OfficeMax (now Navarro), PetsMart, Syms Clothing (now Hobby Lobby), and Builder's Square (now El Dorado Furniture).

     Going back to 1994, here we see the Kendale Lakes Mall in its original form, with Luria's catalog showroom in that anchor building at the right side of the mall corridor. It looks like this was a nice little mall back in the day, although from the lack of cars in the parking areas near the mall itself, seems to show the place was in decline, hence the big box redevelopment only a few years after this image was taken.

     Returning to the present, here's one last look at the exterior of the Kendall Kmart to end this post on. How much time this store has left in it is beyond me. The way Eddie runs this company, there may still be 2 Kmarts left come 2030. So until someone with deeper pockets makes Eddie an offer for this store's lease, the Kendall Kmart will remain, a testament to a once great retail empire that's now just a living relic of retail history. Even though Kmart isn't much of anything anymore, it will still be a sad day when the last one finally closes, bringing to an end an icon and one of the craziest sagas of decline the retail industry has ever seen. I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit this store and in turn share this experience with you, the readers of this post, as I know there are a lot of you who would love nothing more than to see a living Kmart one last time. Even though this trip to Kmart was virtual, I hope you got a nice feel of Kmart in 2021 from these photos. So until Eddie says otherwise, those last 15 Kmarts will keep doing their thing, serving shoppers as they have for years, until the blue light fades away.

     That's all I have for today's post. I hope all of you liked this little glimpse at Kmart for a change, but for next time, we get back on track with more Albertsons. Be sure to come back in two weeks for that!

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger