BLOOMINGTON — Customers were “heartbroken” and “devastated” to hear the news that a 52-year-old discount store that helped shift development from downtown Bloomington eastward will close in mid-January.
Kmart officials confirmed Friday that its location in the city's Colonial Plaza shopping center, 1608 E. Empire St., will close this winter.
“I'm heartbroken,” said shopper Dawn Blangin of Piper City. “I'm really upset.”
Blangin and her husband, Bill, have been making the 50-mile commute to the Bloomington Kmart twice a month for about a year after the Pontiac Kmart closed. They have shopped at Kmart for 40 years.
“I really like their stuff. Now we have nowhere to go,” she said outside the store Friday.
Kmart opened in Bloomington in 1962. The store helped lead the move of retailers from downtown Bloomington to the east side.
“That and the opening of Eastland (Mall) were definitely a significant movement away from downtown business areas to a shopping mall experience,” said Deanna Frautschi, interim CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council.
During decades at the location, it also built up a loyal clientele.
“I'm devastated,” said Deana Ratliff of Bloomington after hearing the news of the closure. For 16 years, Ratliff has shopped at the Bloomington Kmart twice each week.
“I'm going to have to buy 10 pairs of jeans and three pairs of tennis shoes before they close because they sell my favorite brands,” Ratliff said.
The company has announced the closing of several stores recently, including a location in Peoria and well as others in Michigan and California, according to recent reports.
The Bloomington store has 79 employees, who are eligible to receive severance and can apply for jobs at area Sears and Kmart stores, company spokesman Howard Riefs said in an email.
“Store closures are part of series of actions we're taking to reduce on-going expenses, adjust our asset base and accelerate the transformation of our business model,” Riefs said.
The Bloomington store liquidation sale begins Nov. 2, Riefs said. Customers with layaway contracts at the store can pay off the contract early or transfer their layaway contract to a neighboring store or online.
Michelle Parker of Bloomington has shopped at the store for 25 years.
“That's too bad they're closing. This is home, it's safe,” Parker said. “Walmart has really taken a toll.”
Businesses nearby may see effects of Kmart closing, too, Frautschi said.
“I don't think it's a good thing for that to happen. I'm sure the other businesses out there are concerned about it,” she said, adding that there are several vacant spaces in Colonial Plaza.
Adrian Bilyeu, owner of the nearby Adrian's Barber Shop, 510 IAA Drive, Bloomington, said he may lose customers if the bus stops running through the shopping center after Kmart closes.
“Some of my customers won't be able to get here anymore,” he said.
“That will be a bummer for me. Guys who come over here go over to Kmart after,” he said. “I buy a lot of my supplies for the shop there.”
It has already been a struggle for some businesses in the area. Lynn Huynh, who owns Head 2 Toe salon in the shopping center, said she's seen several businesses close since she opened there two years ago.
“I thought it would be a good location, but two businesses next to us closed. My profits do not match what I pay,” she said, adding that she's considering other locations for her business.
The former Circuit City space adjacent to Kmart, now a temporary Halloween store, has not had a long-term tenant since the electronics retailer closed in 2009. A Michaels craft store that moved in 2012 is still vacant. And the owners of the Chicago Style Pizzeria said this week they will close next month after 22 years in business.
Frautschi said she wasn't sure what will happen to the 88,700 square-foot space that will be left empty when Kmart leaves in January.
“Sometimes these things take a long time, or they might get lucky and somebody is looking for space,” she said. “If the right people are involved, the space could be redesigned into a number of things.”