Back-to-back closings of two discount stores in St. Paul months after Sears shut its doors are taking a big bite out of the city's retail offerings and leaving customers wondering where they can shop.
St. Paul's lone Kmart store, on Maryland Avenue East, will close in mid-December, officials said Sunday, just days after Walmart said it will shutter its University Avenue store this month.
Sears near the Capitol closed in January, and Herberger's on University Avenue closed a year ago.
For many, the losses leave few options.
"Why are they taking the only affordable stores?" said Reese West, 34, of St. Paul, who was at the Kmart on Sunday to buy school uniforms for her children. "Where are we going to go?"
West said she doesn't shop online "because we're black and poor," and she worries about packages being stolen.
The closures come amid a massive shake-up in the way Americans shop. As more people buy items online from retailers like Amazon and have them delivered to their doorsteps, both discount and department stores have lost their market shares.
The St. Paul Kmart wasn't the only one affected. Transformco, the company that owns Kmart and Sears stores, also said it's closing the Kmart in International Falls. That will leave just one Kmart in the state, the one on Lake Street in Minneapolis.
The Kmarts will close before Christmas. "The liquidation sales are expected to begin in mid-September and the stores are planned to close by mid-December," the company said.
On late Sunday afternoon, only a few dozen cars sat in Kmart's large St. Paul parking lot.
"It's a good store. Good prices," said Enrique Deharo, an East Side St. Paul resident who was shopping with his wife, Jessica.
The Deharos, who have two children, said they go to the Kmart often.
"That sucks," Deharo said, when hearing that St. Paul would be losing a Kmart and a Walmart. "That's not good. Those are the places we go to the most."
About 333 Walmart employees will lose their jobs when the store closes, the company told a state agency, receiving paychecks through Nov. 8. However, most of them are expected to transfer to nearby Walmart stores, according to company spokeswoman Tiffany Wilson. Eligible employees who don't transfer to another location will receive severance.
Kmart did not indicate what would happen to its employees or how many might lose their jobs.
City Council Member Dai Thao, who represents the Midway area where Walmart is located, expressed optimism about redevelopment of the area. He noted that the city's new $15 minimum wage ordinance may have affected the store's decision to leave St. Paul.
"We want a company that wants to pay fair wages," he said.
City Council Member Amy Brendmoen, whose district includes the Kmart site in the North End neighborhood, said she sees the Kmart shuttering as "an opportunity for the North End more than a loss."
"The site is very promising and frankly I think it's been underdeveloped for a long time," she said, adding that a hotel, a Costco or a Hy-Vee might make good use of the space.
Thao said that the city still has many large retailers, including Target and CVS. A nearby Aldi store can help fill residents' need for good food at a low price, he said. The first priority is helping the workers who may lose their jobs, he said.
The St. Paul Walmart will officially close Sept. 20, with its pharmacy closing a week earlier on Sept. 13.
St. Paul lost its Sears store near the Capitol in January 2019. The company shuttered many of its stores, including the one at the Mall of America, last year after declaring bankruptcy.
Herberger's closed all its Minnesota locations, including one on University Avenue in St. Paul, in August 2018.
As the way people shop changes, retail giant Amazon has built facilities in Minnesota, including an 885,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Shakopee and a Brooklyn Park sorting center.
But online shopping doesn't appeal to everyone, said Guy Frank of Maplewood, who has been going to the St. Paul Kmart for at least 25 years.
"I prefer to see what I'm buying. I want to touch it and feel it," he said. "I'm old school."