Kmart closing

A customer brings a cart full of items out of the Kmart store in Portage on Friday.

The Portage Kmart at 2935 New Pinery Road will close its doors in mid-April, affecting 78 full- and part-time employees.

The announcement was made Friday via email after the Daily Register contacted Kmart’s parent company, Sears Holding Corp. in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Local employees are aware of the impending closure, according to Chris Brathwaite, vice president of media relations and corporate communications at Sears Holding Corp. He communicated with the Daily Register by email Friday, but did not speak on the phone as requested.

“The store will begin its liquidation sale on January 12. This store is being closed because the lease was not renewed,” he wrote.

Portage Mayor Bill Tierney said he was not aware of the closing until told by the Daily Register on Friday afternoon.

“There’s been no official notification to my office and it’s certainly very distressing news whenever we lose a partner in the city. It certainly will be felt,” he said.

It is unclear who owns the building, but the Columbia County tax parcel map lists FHS-Waseca/Portage LP. Its address was listed in Pittsburg, Calif. No website or phone number could be found for it, and no further information was available Friday.

A Kmart has been in Portage for more than 25 years. The local Kmart employees declined to comment Friday and per protocol directed the Daily Register to corporate media relations.

“We are transitioning from a business that has historically focused on running a store network into a business that provides and delivers value by serving its ShopYourWay (shopyourway.com) members in the manner most convenient for them: whether in store, in home or through digital devices. Companies moving through transformations make decisions all the time about how to allocate and re-allocate assets as they execute on their strategic vision,” Brathwaite wrote.

Employees who are eligible will receive severance and have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Sears or Kmart stores, Brathwaite wrote. Most of the associates are part-time/hourly.

The Daily Register asked Brathwaite how long ago the decision was made to close the store.

“These decisions are difficult because we value being part of the community and they’re not taken lightly. However, in this case we made the decision to close the store,” he wrote.

Not only will Kmart employees be out of a job, but it also limits the choices for the average customer, Tierney said.

“Next week we have our new business development specialist, Steve Sobiek, starting and now his plate has one more thing added to it because we need to examine it, and talk to the landlords and find out what their plans are,” Tierney said.

Sobiek will be the city’s first director of business development and planning, moving from director of economic development for the city of Columbus.

Tammy Malone worked as a Kmart sales associate for six years starting in 1989.

“It’s just a shame,” she said Friday of the closing.

When Malone started, the store was at 2915 New Pinery Road, which is now the location of Pierce’s Marketplace. Some employees who preceded Malone at the former location are still working at the Portage Kmart, Malone said. The store expanded and remodeled in the summer of 1989 to the current location.

“Walmart wasn’t here back then. And, when I was working there (at Kmart) I’m going to guess about 1993, I remember going over and doing price checks (at Walmart) … it was scary because they were a big competitor,” Malone said.

The employees were like a family, Malone said, and several of them she still considers friends.

“As a corporation you felt you were a number, but working there I was seen and acknowledged,” she said.

The announcement of the closing also disappoints Scott Tomczak of rural Poynette, who said he shops at Kmart three times per month.

“I’d much rather come here (to Kmart) than Walmart,” Tomczak said outside of Kmart on Friday afternoon.

JoAnn Wingers of Randolph said she drives to Portage to shop at the Kmart store.

“I’m very disappointed, because I’d rather shop here than at Walmart,” Wingers said.

Once the store is closed in Portage, she will still not shop at Walmart, she said.

The closest Kmarts to Portage will be in Mauston and Ripon after the closure.

Rumors of Kmart closing swirled for years after Walmart Supercenter opened at 2950 New Pinery Road. However, shoppers said Kmart had a dedicated customer base.

“I personally think the community did not want to see Kmart leave and there’s a lot of people who are very loyal customers. I would deliberately go there … I’m still shopping there at this moment,” Malone said. “I just wish everyone the best, finding a job and I hope things go well for them, but I can tell them that in person.”

— Daily Register reporter Shannon Green contributed to this story.