McALLEN — The last Kmart in Texas stands in South McAllen, on the corner of 10th and the expressway, just across the parking lot from Furr’s Fresh Buffet.
It won’t be there for long though; Transformco, the company that bought out Kmart and Sears in a bankruptcy sale last year, announced the McAllen store would be closing earlier this month.
In its prime, the hundred-plus-year-old retailer operated thousands of stores across the world. By summer, the number of Kmarts left will be winnowed down to a few dozen.
“Transformco has faced a difficult retail environment and other challenges,” the company said in a release. “We have been working hard to position Transformco for success by focusing on our competitive strengths and pruning operations that have struggled due to increased competition and other factors.”
The McAllen Kmart is expected to be “pruned” by April 12: Easter.
Nathaniel Puente, 22, stood outside Kmart Wednesday, beside his friends and a coin operated horse, chewing on some gum drops.
“This is actually one of the first times I’ve shopped here, but I went to Kmart in Harlingen a couple of times when I was younger,” he said.
Puente said he decided to stop by because it might be his last chance.
“Kmart’s kind of a funny place, it’s like stepping back in the past. It’s weird, compared to Walmart or H-E-B, this is a time capsule in a way,” he said. “I didn’t come here a lot, but it’s always sad when somewhere you go closes, when a trademark place closes.”
Inside the last Kmart in Texas looks pretty much like any other department store, although there are certainly indications the end is near.
A kindly-faced woman in a vest greets you when you walk in, standing in front of a shelf evidently devoted to seasonal goods: plastic pastel eggs, stuffed rabbits, fake flowers. Everything on the shelf is marked down, a quarter off, a solid month and a half before Easter; there won’t be time for that sale after the holiday, you suppose.
It looks like Puente wasn’t the only one to come in because he heard the store was closing. Kmart was doing a brisk trade in shoes and clothing Wednesday, bargain hunters taking advantage of the discounts.
The McAllen Kmart is still well provisioned. There’s more toilet seats, you think, than the store can possibly sell by April. There’s quite a bit left as far as clothes and comestibles and appliances. The aisles of toys, surprisingly, don’t look like they’ve been touched all day.
On the other hand, a few of the aisles have been pretty well rifled through. Some departments just lack options. In sporting goods, for example, you can only get a deal on a new tennis racket if you don’t mind it being pink. The last few badminton sets are Hello Kitty themed.
Other sections of the store are completely devoid of merchandise, and it’s not clear that they’ll ever be restocked.
What was once the outdoor lawn and garden center, for example, looks fairly empty. All you see sitting behind the chain link fence is a few well-used forklifts and some stacks of pallets.
There’s another empty space, in the middle of the store, with nothing but metal racks sitting around, placed at random. You speculate that this might have been where the furniture department was; it’s by the appliances and home decor, so it seems like a logical assumption.
If it was furniture, there doesn’t seem to be any left — unless you’re in the market for industrial department store fixtures. The metal racks are all for sale; the shelves themselves, the most quintessential part of any modern day department store, are for sale too.
“SOLD AS A SECTION ONLY,” a yellow sign, taped to the end of a shelf near some adult diapers, reads. “THIS SECTION: $270.00.”
Despite that sign, and all of the other closeout signs, and the metaphorical signs, it’s hard to imagine that the shopping will all grind to a halt in a month and a half.
Sure, the store’s seen better days: the floors are scuffed, a few of the fluorescent lights blink rather ominously — but there’s so many people here, and so much stuff; how will they ever sell it all in time?
Besides, there’s always been Kmart. Fewer and fewer over the years, sure, but you’ve bumped into the holdouts, spotting them in some out of the way city on a road trip, or just shopping in a part of your hometown you don’t normally frequent.
Kmart’s always been there, and for a long time, it seemed like it always would.
It’s strange to think that after April, you may never pass by that big red K again.