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Kmart is a discount store located in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. In the US, for several decades peaking in The '80s and Early '90s, it was a staple of reasonably-priced no-nonsense merchandise geared toward middle-class shoppers. In the latter two countries, it's a low, low, low-end discount store licensing the name.
Kmart's roots trace back to the dime store chain S. S. Kresge, which was founded in Detroit in 1899 by Sebastian S. Kresge. The company was officially incorporated in 1915 with 85 stores, and despite shedding some stores in the Great Depression, worked its way up to more than 600 stores by The '50s.
The first Kmart (or K-Mart, as it was then known) opened in the Detroit suburb of Garden City in 1962note , followed by a second in Pontiac, Michigan mere months laternote . Expansion was rampant throughout the end of The '80s, causing the then Kresge Corporation to kill off the dime stores entirely in 1987 and officially change the company name to Kmart. Other dime store chains began to play Follow the Leader and open their own massive discount stores: F. W. Woolworth company launched Woolco, J. J. Newberry attempted with Britt's, and W. T. Grant with Grant City. Many of the competitors were largely unsuccessful in the long run, and their demise gave plenty of fodder for fast expansion. Early Kmart stores were often paired with grocery stores called "Kmart Foods" which were often supplied by local grocery chains, although these died out early on.
The chain eventually reached a peak of 2,000 stores by 2000, coinciding with their newly-renovated "Big K" stores (which was around the same time they stopped upgrading their equipment — seriously, it's like stepping into 1993). Unfortunately, Kmart has fallen to a rather distant third place behind Walmart and Target in the discounter race, namely due to competition from online retailers, being behind on remodeling, poor location build-out, deranged leadershipnote , and general incompetence. It also saw the loss of its Canadian locations in 1998 to rival Zellers (which itself was sold to Kmart rival Target in 2013, only for the now-Target Canada to be so poorly run that it was shut down in 2015). The chain also axed all of its Mexico locations in the '90s, and spun off its Australian division to different owners. However, the largest and most profitable one remains on the island of Guam.
In 2005, it merged with Sears and began carrying Sears' Craftsman and Kenmore brands, although not power tools or heavy appliances at most locations. Some of the stores are merely maintained for the real estate between them (the impetus for the Sears merger) and close when inevitably the land price becomes higher than maintaining a store there; for instance, the Kmart near Green Bay, Wisconsin's Lambeau Field happily closed when the Packers offered a mint to the company for the land.
Kmart had seen a bit of resurgence with its "Shop Your Way Rewards" program, in which membership is free and members receive points on every purchase made good for future purchases. Those who sign up for e-mail receive a number of pretty big discount offers, as well as the chance to enter contests for more points. They also have the option of dispensing with a paper receipt and instead having it all e-mailed. Of course, these days, though, there's not much point in being part of a rewards program if you don't have somewhere to earn and spend it and what mileage Kmart had earned from the program has faded because of this.
Kmart used to own several other chains: a supercenter called American Farenote ; hardware superstore Builders Squarenote ; bookstore chains Borders and Waldenbooksnote ; office supply chain OfficeMaxnote ; Pace Warehousenote ; Payless Drugsnote ; and Sports Authoritynote .
One particularly noteworthy sales gimmick was Kmart's so-called "Blue Light Specials", surprise 15-minute in-store sales offering deep discounts on various items. These were announced with an actual flashing blue police light (which could be moved around the store to the location of the sale item) and the memorable Catch Phrase, "Attention, Kmart shoppers! There's a Blue Light Special." These proved so popular with bargain-hunters that at one point Kmart's mascot was a talking blue light bulb named "Mr. Blue Light." Though the sales were officially discontinued in the early 1990s, they have been Un-Cancelled several times, most recently in 2015.
In October 2018, Sears Holdings (Kmart's parent company) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; with new holding company TransformCo Holdings acquiring the chain at the last moment in early 2019. Kmart's condition effectively remained stable until the aforementioned August 29, 2019, announcement of 77 store closures by December 2019 and a series of additional closures announced in late 2019 and early 2020; leaving the chain with a paltry 43 stores, a mere fraction of the more than 2,000 stores from the early 1980s.
References to Kmart in media include...
- A Calvin and Hobbes comic strip has Calvin's dad telling him he was a Blue Light Special from Kmart (cheaper than Sears, ironically from the same company nowadays).
- Rain Man: "Kmart sucks."
- Eminem's 2004 song "Rain Man" includes the line "Definitely... Kmart" as a double reference.
- The Book of Eli reveals that Eli once worked in a Kmart.
- Somewhere in It, Kmart is mentioned.
- In Army of Darkness, S-Mart is a parody of Kmart.
- MAD once had a feature on names turned into acronyms. KMart, according to them, stood for Keeping Middle America Really Tacky. It featured a customer buying a matching shoes/belt/watchband set and another one buying a fake jewel encrusted toilet seat.
- Supposedly, in the original airing of the Family Guy episode "Brian in Love", Brian accidentally urinates while at the supermarket, prompting Peter to ask him "Where do you think you are? Kmart?", to which was changed to Payless in later airings and on the Volume One DVD release. This has been debunked as a recording of the original airing has been uploaded, and it doesn't feature the "Kmart" line that's been rumored for so long (There's even a picture in the folder that shows the captions saying "Payless").
- A Conspiracy Theorist/Internet Tough Guy who managed to turn Talk About the Weather into a series of death threats, doxxings, and other sustained harassment campaigns got the nickname K-Mart in any discussion of him. This was done in order to prevent him from Googling his own name and harassing anyone discussing his multiple failed weather predictions, his scientific illiteracy, and his use of You Can Panic Now to gain attention and web traffic.
- When the children of South Park discuss how wealthy Token's family is, one thing they point out is all of his clothes are high end, while theirs all came from "J-Mart". Unusual for South Park, as they usually work hard to avert Bland-Name Product.
- In an episode of Frasier, socially awkward station manager Kenny complains that he doesn't like to shop for lingerie for his wife because the store mannequins are too sexy. Roz thinks he's talking about Victoria's Secret; he's actually thinking of Kmart.
- Beetlejuice makes an appearance while creepily quoting the memorable slogan, "Attention, Kmart shoppers!"
- "Kmart Realism" was a name given to a literary movement that featured minimalist stories about people struggling in bleak consumer capitalist settings in middle America.
- Photo website Flickr hosts a group devoted to chronicling the history of the brand, with users submitting over 25,000 pictures. It appeals both to the nostalgia factor, and to the kind of people who take an interest in Abandoned Areas.
- In "I Want a Rinky Dinky Doo Dad for Christmas" by Da Yoopers, the son demands that his parents buy him the toy in question, leading to the mom getting into a fight at Kmart.
- In The Hebrew Hammer, the main character and his love interest try to arrest the Big Bad at a Kmart by posing as a Gentile couple, complete with Southern accents, Christian paraphernalia, and American flags.
- In Sergio Aragonés Destroys DC, Superman gets his costume from Kmart, then subjects it to Clothing Damage for Rule of Cool.
- In A Goofy Movie, Goofy and Pete work at a big box store that signals sale items with a flashing blue light.
- In Troop Beverly Hills, Velda threatens Annie over her having to go back working at K-Mart if she doesn't cooperate. Then Velda is forced to work there after she gets fired from the Wilderness Girls, including saying the very line she threatened Annie with.
Velda: Attention K-Mart shoppers. Blue light special, aisle 13. (beeeep) Cookies!
- YouTube channel Company Man has a video on 'The Fall of Kmart, what happened?" which can be seen here.