Customers, city await word on El Centro Kmart store

January 25, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer
  • Aaron Garcia, 10, and his brother James, 14, push the cart for their mom while visiting Kmart in El Centro on Thursday night. CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO

As the Kmart Corp. works to restructure itself under bankruptcy protection and looks at closing stores, customers of the Big Kmart in El Centro said they would hate to lose the discount retailer.

Whether the El Centro store will close remains unknown, according to Kmart Corp. spokeswoman Julie Fracker, interviewed Thursday from the company's corporate headquarters in Troy, Mich.

Kmart Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday. Company officials said they expect to emerge from their restructuring efforts in 2003.

On the issue of closing stores, Fracker only would say that corporate heads are looking at all 2,114 stores to determine what stores will remain open.

She said the restructuring will include closing some stores. When asked how many stores will close, she said that question does not yet have an answer.


The corporation will be looking at profitability and performance of stores and lease agreements tied to the stores.

While there may be no answer yet as to what stores will close, such answers may not be far off. Fracker said the company would move to do the closures before the end of the year.

Analysts have said as many as 700 Kmart stores could close nationwide. Fracker said that is only speculation and such decisions have not been made.

In El Centro, Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Cathy Kennerson said she would hate to see Kmart close because of the loss of jobs.

Big Kmarts such as the El Centro store have 80 to 100 employees on average, Fracker said. Nationwide Kmart has about 245,000 employees.

Kennerson said the closure of Kmart probably would not mean a loss of commerce for the city.

"You would hope the business would be absorbed by other businesses," Kennerson said.

She added she also would be concerned about having another "big box" vacancy in the city like that found further south in the center that saw Heilig-Meyer and Office Depot both close.

El Centro City Manager Abdel Salem agreed he would not like to see another empty "big box" store in the city.

Salem like Kennerson also voiced concern about losing jobs if the store closed.

"There will be a net loss in jobs," Salem said.

El Centro Mayor Larry Grogan said this morning the city is anticipating the possible closure of Kmart and on Feb. 6 will meet with the mayor pro-tem of Cathedral City, who will discuss with El Centro officials how that city has marketed its "big box" stores.

Grogan said the city plans to start a pro-active effort to fill such stores now vacant.

Kennerson said if Kmart were to close it could hurt the foot traffic for other smaller businesses in the shopping center.

Business managers in the area agreed.

Oscar Solis, manager of Sally Beauty Supply next to Kmart, said if Kmart were to closed it could have a severe effect on his business. He said Kmart generates new foot traffic for the business, particularly during the Christmas season.

"It is one of those hooks that we have here," Solis said.

Sammi Bracamonte, manager on duty for Susie's Deals — also near Kmart — said the loss of Kmart could hurt business.

"I'm sure business will slow down," she said, adding business already has slowed a bit since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "Hopefully it doesn't close."

Kmart employees, who asked not to be identified, said they do not think their store will be one closed by the corporation. They also said they are not concerned about losing their jobs, adding the store is doing strong enough business for it to survive the closures.

Customers said it would be a loss if Kmart were to close in El Centro.

Lynn Thompson of El Centro said, "I'm very concerned. I don't want to lose it. I love this store. I hope they are able to pull it out."

Armando Montoya of Calexico said if Kmart were to close it would cause a chain reaction, affecting companies that supply Kmart with products. He also said he would hate to see the store close because he has friends who work there.

Adrienne Dymond of Brawley said she prefers Kmart to Wal-Mart because it is a more comfortable place to shop.

"You can easily find what you are looking for," she said.

Fracker said for now Kmart stores will continue with business as usual.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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