As Kmart switches off blue light in Johnson City, other retailers looking to move in

Nathan Baker • Updated Jun 7, 2017 at 11:15 PM

Kmart, once an anchor retailer on Johnson City’s Peoples Street, will close in September.

But Angie Carrier doesn’t expect the valuable building the company is leaving to be empty for long.

Carrier is the city’s development services director, and part of her job is working with retailers to find suitable locations for their businesses.

“There’ve been some offers made on that building, I’d probably guess somebody will close on it in the next few months,” she said of the 172,000-square-foot Kmart. “There’s been a lot of interested retail that would love to go in that location and were waiting for it to open up.”

Sears Holdings Corp. spokesperson Howard Riefs confirmed Wednesday in an email to the Press that the company planned to close the Peoples Street store in early September. A liquidation sale to get rid of the remaining products and fixtures will begin June 15.

“We have been strategically and aggressively evaluating our store space and productivity, and have accelerated the closing of unprofitable stores as previously announced,” he wrote, before pointing disappointed customers to the brand’s online store.

The parent company, struggling through years of sales declines, have announced round after round of Kmart and Sears stores closings in the last few years.

Last year, the company closed its Bristol Kmart location. Early this year, Sears stores in both Bristol and Kingsport were on the list to close.

In March, amid a major restructuring for the company employing 140,000, the company admitted in an SEC filing that “substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue.”

The Kmart on Stone Drive in Kingsport and the Sears at The Mall at Johnson City will remain open, for now.

Though the company has not turned an annual profit since 2011, CEO Eddie Lampert said earlier this month unfair media coverage of the company’s financial trouble has hurt the brands and Sears Holdings was still “fighting like hell” to turn the corner.

Most shoppers in Johnson City Wednesday said they weren’t surprised the retailer was leaving, but said they were sad to see it go.

“I always say people forget Kmart,” Annette Bryant said as she came out of the store. “Their prices are good, and they’re just about the only one that still does layaway.”

She added that she would consider driving to Kingsport to continue shopping at the retailer.

Several of the eight shoppers interviewed said there was a noticeable lack of business at the store prior to its closing announcement, but some said that was part of what drew them there.

“You don’t have to fight the huge crowds you do at Walmart,” Amy Hutcherson said. “You can get in and out quicker than you would at other places.”

Linda Sams wondered what business might take over the large building after Kmart is gone.

“Hopefully something good will go here,” she said, mentioning German grocery chain Trader Joe’s. "I hate to see it go. I can't remember when there hasn't been a Kmart in town. I hope something comes in here quick."

Carrier said she couldn’t name the companies with interest in the location, but said some were real estate brokers and other were retailers that aren’t currently in the Johnson City market.

“The ones that I have talked to and the retail consultants we work with have talked to have been new to the market,” she said. “There are a lot of businesses that would love to be in that space.”

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