A sad trip into a one of the formerly popular discount store’s locations
The other night I dropped by Kmart. It was sad.
Fewer than 20 cars were parked in a lot that could have held 10 times that number. The asphalt was strewn with litter. It was dark and cold.
An automatic door at the entrance was broken. A hand-lettered sign pointed to the left and asked customers to use that door.
Inside, a table contained inserts with the store’s current deals. It didn’t look like many had been taken or if they had, just a few. Leftover Christmas items filled the shelves of the kiosk near the main entryway.
I was looking for scented candles. The recent cold weather had inspired me to light a candle, more for the warm comfort of a flame than the dubious light it created, or the negligible heat. But I had burned through my last vanilla latte and needed more. At Walmart or Target I would have known immediately where to go, but Kmart was unfamiliar territory to me.
I wandered over to the greeting cards section and temporarily set aside my candle quest. I have a thing for half-priced Christmas supplies, and here was an amazing trove of surplus stuff. I sorted through boxes of untouched wrapping paper. What a shame people don’t wrap packages anymore, I thought. They stuff gifts into a bag and call it wrapped, then go back to playing with their phones. They do the same thing with their kids and their lives.
What a shame.
Packages of gift tags, sacks of ribbons, and foil-wrapped chocolates in the shape of that tired old Santa I remember from the days when I wondered how he squeezed his fat butt down the heater exhaust vent. At Walmart, this stuff would have been gone the day after Christmas, but here, it was untouched.
I hiked through a forest of $46 artificial Christmas trees and tested gadgets that would project dancing snowflakes against a house, boxes of them just sitting there at half price.
I had not found scented candles.
An employee, a pleasant young woman pushing a train of shopping carts, appeared in the aisle ahead of me. I asked about the candles.
“Yes, let me show you,” she said.
No, I said. You don’t have to trouble yourself. Just point me in the general direction and I can find them.
She insisted on showing me and we marched off down the aisle, taking a hard right and racing through the housewares section until we came to an aisle with shelves of candles. At Walmart, it would have been an aisle of scented votive candles and tealights and candles in Mason-like jars with scents like juniper and patchouli, but here it was a few shelves, which was OK. I wasn’t feeling choosy.
I picked three — Relaxing Seas, Creamy Vanilla and Fresh Lavender — for a total of $9. I wondered how much they would have cost somewhere else.
I returned to the front of the store. Nobody was at the cash registers. I heard people talking at the service desk, so I went there. A woman was getting a refund on a Christmas gift. She wanted everybody to see the photo on her phone of her, cocooned in scarves and a winter jacket, during a recent trip to New York. The clerk waited for her to finish, then gave her a store card with the refunded amount, almost $9.
Then it was my turn. But the cash register wouldn’t void the previous transaction, so the clerk had to switch to a different cash register, one with a screen that seemed dated from the Reagan administration.
“There’s nobody at the cash registers,” I told the clerk.
“There are only two people working tonight, and the other one is on break.”
Two people. In a store that big.
“Do you know if they’re going to close this store?” I asked.
She shook her head, but instead of saying “No,” she said, “I don’t know.”
She said it again as I collected my Fresh Lavender, Creamy Vanilla and Relaxing Seas and headed for the middle door, because the door on the left was broken.
What had happened here? When I was a kid we used to drive to Pensacola to shop at Kmart. You couldn’t leave the store for the lines out the door.
These days you can’t get the door open.
Outside, it was dark and cold.
Del Stone Jr. is the online editor for the Northwest Florida Daily News.