- Morrice, MI
Kmart closing reaction ‘We hate to see it go’
GAYLORD — Shoppers, residents and local officials are lamenting the closure of Gaylord’s Kmart store and the loss of another 48 jobs in the community.
Sears Holding Co. announced last week that Gaylord’s Kmart will close May 19 after the lease for the building was not renewed.
In an e-mail statement, Kmart spokesperson Howard Riefs said the closure will cut expenses and assets, and accelerate the company’s changing business model.
“It’s sad. This used to be the main strip,” shopper Susan Harlukowicz, of Frederic, said Monday.
Raised in Grayling, Harlukowicz said trips to Gaylord would include stops at Kmart and other stores along South Otsego Avenue.
“I hate to see it happen, and I hate to see another closure,” added shopper Janet Stranaly of Onaway. “I can’t imagine anyone not using (the store).”
Groundbreaking for Kmart occurred in June 1981, and the store opened in November, initially employing 60 people, according to Herald Times’ archives. Additional hires were expected during peak seasonal periods. The original manager was Jan A. Hook.
Unlike most Kmart buildings at the time, which were built by private developers and leased long term to Kmart, the Gaylord store was initially owned by the company itself. Otsego County records list Lordhill Limited Partnership, whose offices are in New York City, as the landowner.
Two years earlier, in 1979, there was speculation as to whether Kmart would open a location in Gaylord since the town did not have an economic development corporation (EDC) to provide low-interest financing through bonds. At the time, Grayling’s EDC had been contacted by Kmart corporation about possibly opening a store there, and there was concern that Gaylord would lose its Kmart store to Grayling.
That year, local Realtor Dale Smith urged the Gaylord City Council that Kmart would not locate in Gaylord without an EDC, while a Kmart spokesperson said it would not be crucial to the development. The council voted against forming an EDC.
In March 1980, the Otsego County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to create an EDC. At that meeting, the owner of Peet’s Packing Company in Gaylord, Wayne Bauers, said he would be interested in a loan to expand his business.
General functions of the county’s EDC are now under the Otsego County Economic Alliance, created in 1999 by the Gaylord Area Chamber of Commerce.
Before it was built, Kmart was also among the landowners near Aspen Park petitioning the City Council to create a special tax assessment district to finance road construction and extend public utilities to the area.
Mayor John Jenkins is attending a March meeting of the economic alliance and said the Kmart closure needs to be a topic of discussion.
Gaylord resident Tammy LaBouef shared her own concerns about the closure at Monday’s council meeting. She sees Kmart as the latest in a string of shuttered businesses that is eroding the local tax base by shedding jobs and forcing families to move out of the area.
“Fifty jobs is a lot of jobs,” she said. “And that’s 50 families that are affected. These are people who go to our schools, our churches, our restaurants.
“I see the situation just continuing to get worse,” she added. “What are we doing to keep the jobs here?”
Liquidation sales at the Gaylord Kmart store are expected to begin March 3. Signs on the front door say Tuesday was the last day for prescription services at the store’s pharmacy, and no new layaways have been accepted since Feb. 19.