Last chance for bargains; Big Kmart closing today

Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2003

Kmart's 10-year presence in Kenai ends today.

The store, which has been a Kenai fixture since 1993, fell victim to a nationwide sweep of 326 store closings announced in January. Since then, the store has been working to liquidate merchandise, slashing prices by as as much as 95 percent. Today is the last day the store will remain open.

On Saturday, bargain hunters trickled in beneath a giant "store closing" sign, searching for one last "blue light special." Some found bargains amid the dwindling stock of merchandise. Most left empty handed.

Shelves in the store stood mostly bare, with only a few, heavily discounted items left to tempt buyers. Nearly as many employees as customers wandered through the store, some removing light fixtures and shelving, many standing idle beside quiet cash registers.

One hundred thirty-two Kenai employees will lose their jobs, as will more than 800 at the other four stores around the state. All five Alaska stores are scheduled to close today. The company has said it will offer severance packages or transfers to some employees, though most will be left hunting for new jobs tomorrow. Employees said Saturday they were not allowed to talk about the closures.

Kmart Corp. announced the closures in an effort to emerge from bankruptcy protection filed in federal court. The Alaska closures are part of an effort to cut 37,000 jobs across the country.

The move is expected to have a large effect locally, as the store accounted for 20 percent -- roughly $800,000 --of the city of Kenai's sales tax revenue annually. There has been no word yet on plans to move another retailer into the soon-to-be vacant store, and the owner of the building has declined comment on future plans for the site.

As for what remains inside the Kenai store, most merchandise was liquidated in a sale that began in January with prices slashed by first 20, then 30 and finally, as much as 95 percent.

Even the light fixtures and shelves were fair game, and several people Saturday could be seen removing bits and pieces of what remained inside the store. The scene was reminiscent --albeit much more orderly --than looting in Iraq, with people pushing miscellaneous carts, shelves and tables out the front door.

Most customers Saturday appeared to simply be checking out the large, empty shell of what once was Kenai's largest retail store. Amid a small group of people leaving the store, a man and small boy emerged without having made a purchase.

"Shelves," the man muttered. "Just a bunch of shelves."

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