The shelves holding colorful displays of bath towels are gone and the pet food section is sparse, but a couple of aisles of toys remained as of late last week, along with a lot of vacuum cleaners.
The Kmart store on Troy-Schenectady Road, east of the Latham traffic circle, slowly is shedding its inventory ahead of closing in May. So is another store off Northway Exit 9 in Clifton Park, while a third, on routes 9 and 20 in East Greenbush, is in the midst of a going-out-of-business sale, too, but won’t close until June.
The stores were targeted because their leases are up, a tactic owner Sears Holdings Corp. is using to reduce its store count.
The company operated more than 1,100 Kmart stores nationwide as of Feb. 1, the majority of them in leased sites.
At the Latham store, where the liquidation sale is about six weeks old, the perimeter walls are mostly bare of merchandise and big chunks of floor space sit empty. A couple of boxed backyard trampolines remain on display, marked down 30 percent (each would still set you back about $260), but small kitchen appliances are hard to find.
While retailers periodically shutter stores deemed “underperforming,” the Kmart closings seem more methodical. Indeed, in its annual report filed with regulators, Sears Holdings states that “We are transforming our company to a less asset-intensive business model.”
CEO Eddie Lampert, who brought together the Kmart and Sears chains in 2005 to create Sears Holdings, told analysts in a conference call in late February that the goal is to create a company ready to deliver to shoppers both in-store and online.
It’s not easy to do, though, as the bottom line shows: Sears Holdings posted a loss of nearly $1.4 billion in 2013 on sales of $36.2 billion. Revenue was smaller than a year earlier, and the loss was bigger.
“Transforming a business is always challenging,” Lampert says. “Add to it a highly promotional and fast-changing retail landscape, and a consumer that has drastically changed the way they shop, and you have a significant task in trying to adapt a retailer the size of Sears Holdings.”
It would be a safe bet, then, that the number of Kmart stores next year will be smaller than the number this year, as this year’s count is smaller than last year’s.
Which means the sights I saw at the Latham Kmart will be repeated: a few shoppers pushing carts full of odds and ends, a dad and his son checking out what was left in sporting goods, an old-timer doing the same in automotives.
At some point, the inventory will be dregs and the shelves and fixtures will go, too.
But meantime, someone should do something about the “Now Hiring” sign at the store, located one door in from the “Store Closing” sign on the exterior.
It’s just too discombobulating.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.