By February 2020, Sarasota-Manatee will be a region without a Kmart. The last store in the area, at 7350 Manatee Ave. W. in Bradenton, is scheduled to close early next year.
We are gathered here to pay our respects to Kmart, the once-widespread American retailer that by February will be totally eradicated from the streets of Sarasota and Manatee counties.
We knew this day would eventually come. The writing on the wall has been there since way before a little thing called “Amazon dot com” threatened to disrupt the retail space.
No, the message started to rear its unfortunate head long before that, before the turn of the century, even, when the American superstore failed to keep up with demands of consumers like you and me.
For those of you who haven’t already heard — in which case, what are you doing at this funeral? — the last Kmart in the area — 7350 Manatee Ave. W. in Bradenton — is on the list of the latest store closings from Transformco, the new parent company of the troubled Sears and Kmart brands run by former Sears chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments.
The Bradenton store is one of 96 Sears and Kmart stores closing across the U.S., according to an announcement this week from Transformco.
Yes, those who have relied on Kmart for clothing, appliances and the like in Bradenton are going to have to give in and shop at one of the retailer’s main competitors — Target, Walmart or the aforementioned Amazon.
Although to be fair, all of those companies are much better at getting people what they need, when they need it, so you’re probably already getting certain things from there anyway.
However, brothers and sisters, although this may have been a long time coming, and the “why” should be fairly obvious, perhaps it would still do us some good to reflect on how we got here.
The Sears and Kmart brands have been bleeding themselves dry for a while, even before Sears Holdings Company filed for bankruptcy in October 2018. Since then, though, the company has struggled to stay alive.
Transformco, which purchased Sears’ assets earlier this year, said in its announcement of the store closings that the new purchase has been anything but a cakewalk.
“Since purchasing substantially all the assets of Sears Holdings Corporation in February 2019, Transformco has faced a difficult retail environment and other challenges,” the company said in a statement. “We have been working hard to position Transformco for success by focusing on our competitive strengths and pruning operations that have struggled due to increased competition and other factors.”
Left over from this “pruning” of operations will be 182 remaining stores — for now, anyway. Transformco said it’s going to keep evaluating its footprint, which it says is consistent with its overall strategy.
The company’s owners and a third-party investor also recently provided Transformco $250 million in new capital.
I spoke with Stan Rutstein, a Manatee County-based commercial real estate broker who spent decades in the retail industry. After all, I’m in my late twenties, and to be honest Kmart wasn’t even really relevant when I was growing up in the age of Nickelodeon and the Spice Girls.
This isn’t one of those stories where things started to look bad when Amazon burst onto the scene.
“First of all, it was a failure when [S.S. Kresge Corporation] owned it as five-and-dime store. It tried to chase Walmart and Target and never did,” Rutstein said. “Eddie Lampert decided to merge Sears and Kmart, which are like oil and water, and tried to force it to be the same customer. Kmart real estate couldn't hold a candle to Sears real estate.”
The area around the closing Kmart might also run into some trouble, Rutstein said. He says that part of Bradenton is already over-retailed.
“It’s a limited neighborhood. It doesn’t pull from any great distances. I think it could be a challenge, but I don’t know, look across the street,” he said.
He’s referring to the building once anchored by Albertsons that is going to be the future home of Lucky’s Market. The retail on the east end of that plaza is pretty lacking.
As far as the Kmart plaza itself goes, there’s already a Publix. So what else is there, really?
“You had Staples, they closed there. So here we go, another gym. We are going to gym and restaurant ourselves to death,” Rutstein said.
The closing of this store means that Sarasota-Manatee will be without a Sears or a Kmart — besides the Sears Hometown and Outlet stores in Englewood and the one in for permitting in Manatee County at 8333 Lockwood Ridge Road. The DeSoto Square Mall lost its Sears last holiday season. Westfield Sarasota Square lost its own in 2017.
Town and Country Plaza lost Kmart in 2017 and the old store at Jacaranda Plaza now has a Marshalls in it — and Lucky’s Market is coming soon. The most recent Kmart closure was in Ellenton, and that store has been replaced with an At Home.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I stepped foot into a Kmart. I think it was 1997 in Southbury, Connecticut, with my aunt. I was always a kid who loved stuff like makeup and clothes and stuffed animals and anything shiny, but even at age 6 I knew there was nothing for me at Kmart.
Still, the store has meant a lot to people for generations. Herald-Tribune reporter and friend of this column Carlos Munoz told me that he used to eat at the cafeteria in Kmart as a kid in Wisconsin. It’s always sad to say goodbye to a retail store that you grew up with, even when you haven’t given it much thought in years.
Kmart may have left Sarasota-Manatee, but it still exists and perhaps there could be hope for the future. Transformco said it plans to deliver value by focusing on its better-performing stores and service businesses, brands and other assets. The company expects a significant return on investment from its owned and leased real estate portfolio, according to the release.
Transformco also acquired Sears Hometown, a network of independently owned and operated smaller-format stores focused on home, lawn and garden and sporting goods.
But Sears and Kmart as we knew them in Sarasota-Manatee are no more.
So, rest in peace, local Sears and Kmart stores. Thanks for the memories. And may we never take the brands we know and love now for granted, because retail, like life, is a fickle, fickle business.
Laura Finaldi, the Herald-Tribune’s retail and tourism reporter, can be reached at 941-361-4951 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lauraefinaldi. Join her Sarasota-Manatee Retail News page on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/sarasotamanateeretail.