Volunteers from urban-outreach group Source painted over graffiti on plywood last week at Kmart on Lake Street in Minneapolis. A planned mural could soon encase the Kmart until the building is torn down.
The building now is being cleaned out, marking an unceremonious end to one of the most profitable Kmarts in the country. The liquidation sale stopped soon after it started with discounts ranging from 25% to 75% off merchandise as it wound down to the planned June 30 closure.
Instead, the looting and violence that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police accelerated the closing.
As Kmart ends its run across the country, the Lake Street location was the one still operating in Minnesota after nearly 50 existed in the state in the 1990s. The Kmart stubbornly stayed put despite multiple attempts by Minneapolis officials to displace it. Early last week as city employees surveyed the damage, Kmart employees swept up broken glass and debris in the entryway and mopped up pools of water on the store floor.
“Kmart provided needed low-cost goods and services within walking distance for many residents and those along the transit corridor,” said Steve Poor, director of developmental services for Minneapolis’ Community Planning & Economic Development (CPED) office. “The building appears to have no structural damage but since the sprinkler system went off, we have to get rid of the water to avoid mold. We’re considering temporary uses of the space.”
Rebecca Parrell, CPED’s project supervisor, said there is no timeline for the building to be razed after last week’s destruction. “Back in March the City Council said demo would begin at the end of 2020 but that was before this happened. Now it’s in a period of assessment.”
Todd Finney of Medford stopped by on Tuesday to help paint over graffiti on the walls. He grew up in the neighborhood populated by Latinos, blacks and African immigrants.
“It was both a pleasure and a pain for the neighborhood,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize it, but it was the main bloodline in the neighborhood. There was lots of foot traffic.”
Parrell said the lack of cars in Kmart’s parking lot was deceiving. “People felt as if it was never busy because there weren’t a lot of cars in the lot, but that was because so many people walked or took public transit.”
Renee Cottier, who checked last week to see if Kmart was still open, lives two blocks away and shopped there for 25 years.
“It’s an unbelievable loss to the neighborhood,” she said. “First we lost Supervalu, and then Kmart became the only place you could buy clothes, shoes, food, and gifts in one spot. With Kmart, Cub and Target closed in the area, I’ll have to find someone to take me to the suburbs.”
The need for Kmart contrasted with constant calls for a face-lift or complaints that it was a roadblock that cut Nicollet Avenue in two at a critical juncture.
In the early 1970s, the city had big plans for the Nicollet-Lake district that would remake it into a mini Southdale with apartments, offices, a movie theater and restaurants. Land was cleared by 1974 but financing dried up.
With its back against the wall to prevent taxpayers from footing the nearly $2 million bill for bonds coming due, the city hastily accepted an offer from Kmart that included the Nicollet closure.
That decision has been the core of countless attempts to move the store and reopen the thoroughfare since Kmart opened its doors in March 1978 — all deflected by Kmart or its subsequent owners.
Residents dubbed its stark north exterior the “Berlin Wall” or “Nicollet Wall” and requested a second entrance there. Kmart officials rejected the request, but paid $3,500 to commission a mural on the wall with a design chosen by a committee of five neighborhood groups and painted by six local artists. Parts of the mural remain on the back wall.
Fewer than 35 Kmarts remain in the U.S. as its blue light dims. The St. Paul, International Falls and Rochester stores closed last year. But at its peak, the S.S. Kresge chain operated more than 2,100 stores.
By the 1990s, competitors Walmart and Target began to seal its fate. In 2002, the company declared bankruptcy. Many saw its merging with Sears in 2004 as hastening its demise.
Minneapolis began serious attempts to take back the space when in 2017 it paid $8 million for the 7 acres beneath the store site, becoming Kmart’s landlord for a mere $10,000 a month.
Earlier this year, the city bought out Kmart’s lease for $9.1 million, nullifying a contract that extended to 2053.
What began by a city willing to ignore the wishes of a neighborhood for a cash infusion is now ending for a retailer desperate for cash.
The city is still assessing its options for redeveloping the site.
“This is a loss of services to the community, but with community engagement and a new street, we are considering those needed goods and services for the neighborhood in the new development,” said project manager Parrell.