January 04, 2012 - By Joe St. Henry
Can Lake Orion's venerable Kmart survive the chopping block yet again?
That is the question people are asking in wake of Sears Holding Corp.'s announcement last week that it would close up to 120 more Sears and Kmart stores across the country.
A Dec. 27 partial list of stores to be closed, found on the company's website, identified 79 locations to be shuttered. There may be additional closures but, so far,the list does not include the Lake Orion store.
Due to falling sales, Kmart closed 200 stores in 1995 and 300 more in 2002 as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Sears Holding Corp. was formed in 2005 when discounter Kmart acquired the Sears department store chain.
This year, Kmart suffered a 4.4 percent drop in same store sales this holiday season compared to 2010, with sales at Sears stores in the United States down by six percent.
Across the country, retail sales were up this holiday season. Michigan retail sales, in fact, outpaced the nation – actually exceeding an expected six percent increase in sales, according to Michigan Retailers Association.
Management at the Lake Orion Kmart on Lapeer Road declined to discuss holiday sales results or the possible closure of the store, referring all inquiries to Sears Holding Corporation.
A recorded message from the company in Illinois said it was not accepting any media inquiries on the subject of the store closures.
Many people who shopped at Kmart in the past now frequent the retailers on Brown Road.
"We don't shop at Kmart, especially since the stores opened in Auburn Hills," said long-time resident Jake Singer, referring to Target, Meijer and other retail establishments. "We live in the Baldwin Corridor and it's just more convenient to shop there than Kmart."
Alaina Campbell, executive director of the Orion Area Chamber of Commerce, said she will be very sad if the Kmart closes, especially for the people who may lose their jobs.
"It's amazing Kmart has stayed open for as long as it has, given the fact they haven't put any money into updating the building," she added.
Singer, who works in finance, said a store that size just cannot survive with so few customers. "I've wondered for years how it has managed to stay open."
Local retail consultant Ed Nakfoor, however, said one cannot look at just foot traffic when evaluating a store's performance.
"What it really all comes down to is a store's profitability," he said. Nakfoor did say it will not get any easier for the remaining Sears or Kmart outlets in the current retail environment.
The local Kmart doe appear to have its share of loyal customers. This includes Peggy Boggs, who has lived near the village for 25 years. She said it does not matter that the store's look is not as contemporary as others, such as Target.
"It's all about convenience and the Kmart is right there," she said. "I go there first rather than driving down to Brown Road. They have everything I need.
"I love the housewares, electronics and gardening departments."
Campbell said there also is a lot less traffic congestion near the Kmart, making it more "navigable" for people, especially elderly shoppers.
"Kmart is close by for many seniors, they know where everything is at and can manage the parking lot to get what they need."
As of press time, additional store closing have not been announced.