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DL Kmart announces closure, set to close doors April 1

Kmart in Detroit Lakes has announced it will be closing up shop come April 1. Until then, the employees will be working to liquidate all of the inventory. Kaysey Price/Tribune

Still sporting a hopeful "now hiring" sign, the Detroit Lakes Kmart announced Wednesday that it is closing after nearly 26 years in business, leaving the employees it already has without a job and some area shoppers at a loss.

"It's probably my favorite place to shop," said Joyce Grieger, a Detroit Lakes local who has frequented the store for many years. "This is where I get my 'scripts filled, where I buy a lot of my grandkids clothes...I always find good sales here."

Grieger says she prefers shopping at Kmart because it has a more "relaxed atmosphere" than its competitors—but it's that very low-key shopping experience that's doing them in.

"Many of these stores have struggled with their financial performance for years," read a Sears holdings statement, which lists all of the Kmart and Sears stores in the nation that have announced closures in the last couple of weeks: on Jan. 4, 78 Kmart stores and 26 Sears stores announced they would be closing, and on Dec. 27, 30 Kmart stores and 16 Sears stores announced closures effective this spring. (The Detroit Lakes Sears is not part of the closures.)

But closing stores isn't new for the company.

Peggy Kephart, a Hines, Minn., resident who stopped into the Detroit Lakes Kmart looking for Christmas sales Thursday morning as she was passing through town, said she used to shop at the Kmart in Bemidji before it closed a few years ago, but now she has to get her Kmart fix on trips, wherever she can find one—she just prefers it to other competitors.

"I hate going to Walmart," Kephart said.

As for the employees, they are unable to comment on the closure. Deferring to media relations, the company has tailored a statement, which reads in part, "The decision to close stores is a difficult but necessary step as we take actions to strengthen the company's operations and fund its transformation...But in order to meet our objective of returning to profitability, we have to make tough decisions and will continue to do so, which will give our better performing stores a chance at success."

The company is working to compensate "eligible employees" with severance packages and allowing others the chance to apply for jobs at other Kmart locations; however, a dying breed, there are only six stores left in the state, the closest being an hour and 45 minutes away in Thief River Falls.

But the closure isn't just affecting the employees and local shoppers. As a corporation with many moving parts, a ripple effect unfolds.

Rodney Sumpter, who has been a custodian at Kmart since 2006 through a contracted maintenance company, says he's not sure what's going to happen to his job, or that of the three other custodians he works with—but he's hopeful.

"We're kind of hoping whoever comes in here will consider us taking over, since we already know the store," said Sumpter. "They're going to need a cleaning crew."

It wasn't always like this, though. Kmart had it's day. Dubbed "the city's largest retail establishment," the store had shoppers swarming on its opening day, Thursday, Jan. 31, 1991.

In fact, Kmart's first customer was former Mayor Larry Buboltz himself with a purchase of $6.11.

As for who will be the store's final customer, that tidbit is unknown until April 1, when the store officially ends its liquidation sale.

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