West Lebanon Kmart to close, job listings say

  • The Kmart Plaza seen on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, on Route 12A in West Lebanon, N.H. A Boston-based commercial real estate development and investment company has purchased three shopping plazas in the area, including the one. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Charles Hatcher

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 5/29/2020 9:05:24 PM
Modified: 5/29/2020 9:05:15 PM

WEST LEBANON — Attention Kmart shoppers: The last of the chain’s stores in northern New England appears to be closing — for good.

The Kmart store in West Lebanon, a fixture along the Route 12A shopping plaza corridor for more than 40 years, is open now, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but is looking for workers to help close the store.

Transformco, the private company that owns Kmart and Sears, has posted job listings on Transformco’s website and Indeed.com seeking to hire part-time cashiers and customer service workers at the West Lebanon location, but each listing is appended with a “store closing” qualifier.

Transformco spokesman Larry Costello declined to comment, as did the West Lebanon store’s general manager. The online listings did not specify a closing date.

Once a familiar presence in thousands of towns across the U.S. and known for its “attention Kmart shoppers” announcement over the public address system alerting customers to promotions, Kmart, along with its and sister retailer Sears, has been on life support for years as brick-and-mortar stores suffer from online competition.

The West Lebanon store, strategically located near the intersection of Interstate 89 and 91, is the sole surviving Kmart location in New Hampshire, Vermont or Maine and one of only two left in New England.

Kmart Plaza opened in 1976, but in recent years the West Lebanon store has gradually scaled back, closing its in-store pharmacy in 2017 and later shutting down a Little Caesars pizza franchise. Although Kmart absorbed appliances and the Craftsman line of tools when the nearby Sears closed in 2017, the store’s shelves often appeared to be out of stock on many items and the aisles saw little customer foot traffic.

But shoppers were still showing up on a hot Friday afternoon — a full pallet of air conditioners that had been rolled onto the sales floor in the morning had only two remaining units for sale by 3 p.m., according to an employee.

Nonetheless, with a wide assortment of products spanning apparel, basic household items, appliances, toys, shoes, patio furniture, beauty aids and above-ground pools, Kmart has had a small, loyal following of customers, especially among some who prefer it over rival Walmart.

“I choose Kmart because I really don’t like Walmart,” said Sandra Manning as she exited the store with a box of kitty litter on Friday afternoon.

Manning, of Royalton, said she shopped at Kmart a couple times a month, “usually for household items,” and said she preferred it over Walmart because of Kmart’s loyalty discount system and because the store is less crowded.

Manning, however, said she wasn’t surprised to hear the store would be closing.

“There’s been rumors around. We see the empty aisles and unstocked shelves. We were just waiting for it to happen,” she said.

Windsor resident Michael Welker, who swung by Kmart on Friday to exchange and pick up three five-gallon dispensers of bottled water, also said word of the store closing did not come as a shock.

Welker, a financial analyst for a dairy cooperative, said a trip to Kmart had been a regular thing when he was growing up in rural Pennsylvania.

“They were bigger than Walmart,” he said, adding that the West Lebanon Kmart store was one of the few places he could get the brand of bottled water refills to fit his dispenser at home. Then along came Amazon and “the online business drove a stake through” retailers like Kmart, he said.

The store’s closing will create a big hole in West Lebanon’s box store strip, where there are already multiple vacant retail storefronts in nearly every shopping plaza along Route 12A.

Kmart Plaza was one of three Lebanon-area commercial shopping centers sold by Dead River Co. to Boston-based The Davis Cos. for $27.2 million in 2017, with the Kmart Plaza alone valued at $16.5 million in the transaction.

Another question mark has been the fate of the J.C. Penney location in the nearby Upper Valley Plaza. The department store chain filed for bankruptcy on May 15 and said it would close a portion of its 846 stores, although it has not yet identified which ones.

But the J.C. Penney store in West Lebanon, which has been closed because of the pandemic, received positive news Thursday when the company said its four New Hampshire locations would be among 500 stores expected to reopen by June 5.

Business writer John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

Valley News

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