The most shocking thing about the Avenel Kmart, one of only four people left in the country, was that it was still open.
I was surprised when I found my local Kmart, but I couldn't remember the last time I went there this week, days before it was set to close for good, leaving only one additional state just three people have left in all of the United States.
I'd travel west through the Home Depot or go past it on my way somewhere else, but be surprised that they hadn't taken the signs down yet. How could this gray, un-updated store still be open as Kmarts across the country fell victim to closures?
At the beginning of Route 35, a strip mall with an indoor trampoline park and a Boston Market were all filled with a hodgepodge of clothing, household goods, pet supplies, and perhaps anything you need.
It'll charge you for two days in a row, permeating shoppers to pick out the last dredges of affordable goods before shuttering on Saturday.
After an Associated Press report on the closing, the store was announced, but interest was raised nationally. On Wednesday afternoon, I noticed that most other shoppers had pretty full carts.
At Kmart in Avenel, shoppers get last minute discounts, leaving this Kmart as its only retail location in Westwood of Bergen County. Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media
I can understand the sense of nostalgia it has enlivened as a result of my senior year of college, and the news of the closure was greatly-discussed by me and my college roommate.
In twist-off bottles, shirts with Nicki Minaj's famous moscato, seasonal decorations that absolutely didn't correlate to the season it was, and cashiers who just did not want anything to do with you.
It made no sense. We shopped there constantly.
Three days before the location of Avenel closed, none of the items I remember so fondly from my college days were in the store (definitely not the grunty cashiers), although there was a grumpy-looking goose disguised in the parking lot.
Going out of business sales are always a little hit or miss; you have no idea what you'll be going to find until you actually get into the store. This one was distinctly odd.
The gift wrapping and card section sounded like a regular day in business. The back section of the store was overflowing with bright summer clothes for baby and toddler girls, but there wasn't a single piece of clothing for a little boy. There were several scarves from the University of Kentucky and a box of stuffed animals (nothing for New Jersey area sports teams left, however). A display shelf was filled with bright blue Kmart employee shirts.
Shoppers pick up last minute bargains at Kmart in Avenel on April 16 leaving the only retail location in Westwood of Bergen County. Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media
I've still found some things to toss in my cart, including some bathing suits, a pair of sneakers I'd probably seen at a Marshall's before, crayons, and some Chex.
The Chex was not without controversy. Another shopper slammed me when she saw I had a box in my cart, and apologized for failing to check the expiration date.
Some may end in May 2022, but others are in March of 2023, she said, looking disapprovingly at my cereal. You need to really check that.
I'd like to utilize it to create some trail mix which would certainly not last past the weekend, just before the month?
"No honey, go get another box," she said, and, well, who was she to argue? I got another box.
The things I got were all pretty good deals, but there were still plenty of items on the shelves that weren't really a steal at all. Some parts of the store were only 20% or 40% off, leaving the items the same price or more expensive than in stores that were not having closed doorbuster sales.
After discounts, racks of blankets were still about $17, which is about what youd spend on a similar blanket at HomeGoods. Exercise equipment was priced higher than what youd find on Amazon, and plenty of gift wrapping items weren't much better of a deal than at Target.
I think thats the point: Kmart had established its foundation as being one of the first department stores to offer a layoff, allowing people to purchase goods over time rather than simultaneously. But then Walmart became becoming more widespread, and then Kmart didn't really have a place.
All of this is unique to an American large box retailer's sense of nostalgia.
"Find anything good there?" a man climbing out of a car as I was getting into mine asked, looking at my large plastic shopping bag (another mainstay of New Jersey ).
I laughed. "You know how these sales can be. Always hit or miss," I said.
"Yeah," he said. "But you have to go one last time."
In this file photo from 1976, Kmart executives look out for store advertising. (Staten Island Advance)Staten Island Advance
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