News that Kmart will close its doors here later this year left shoppers Tuesday “disappointed” that another business will shutter in town, and concerned for the scores of people who will be without work.
The big box store will begin liquidation sales later this month and will close the Bellevue Road location in mid-October, the corporation confirmed.
The closing will lay off 74 employees, some of whom are eligible for severance pay, according to Howard Riefs, director of corporate communications for Sears Holdings Corp., of which Kmart is a subsidiary.
“Store closures are part of a series of actions we’re taking to reduce ongoing expenses, adjust our asset base and accelerate the transformation of our business model,” Riefs said in a statement.
Kmart has been closing stores, selling assets and slashing inventory as it continues with efforts to turn around its business after four years of falling profits.
Sears lost $159 million, or $1.50 per share, for the period that ended Jan. 31. A year earlier it lost $358 million, or $3.37 per share. The retailer closed about 234 underperforming Kmart and Sears stores in 2014, with the majority being Kmarts.
To try to get back on track, Sears has shifted its focus from running a store network to operating an online and offline business tied together by its Shop Your Way loyalty program.
Several employees leaving the Atwater store about noon Tuesday said they were ordered not to speak with reporters. One employee, who spoke anonymously, said the majority of workers have two or more jobs.
74 The number of employees to lose their jobs
The employee said she’d have to begin looking for another job immediately, and said she has a couple of prospective jobs in view. “For those who don’t, it sucks,” she said.
Finding a new job could be a tall order for displaced workers. Atwater has a 12.2 percent unemployment rate, which is higher than the county average, according to the most recent numbers from the Employment Development Department.
Shoppers who live in the area said they liked the convenience of a store to which they could walk. Jackie Blevins, 69, of Atwater said she’s a regular shopper.
“I thought the economy as a whole for the nation was doing better,” she said. “But you wonder when a store’s closing.”
She said the closing is also “sad” for the employees and for those who live close by and can’t get to big box stores such as Target or Walmart on the other side of town.
Chuck Brumett, another shopper, said he visits the store regularly for fishing gear and other needs. He said it’s never good to see shopping centers turned into “ghost towns.”
“It’s a shame,” the 60-year-old said. “These people are going to be out of a job.”
Atwater has seen a number of large employers close in the past couple of years. Last August, the AT&T call center in Atwater closed, taking about 400 jobs with it. Mi Pueblo, a grocery store that employed more than 90, also closed late last year.
Add to that list Atwater’s RadioShack and other retailers with smaller staffs.
I thought the economy as a whole for the nation was doing better. But, you wonder when a store’s closing
Jackie Blevins, 69, of Atwater, a Kmart shopper
Joe Hoffar, the Atwater Chamber of Commerce president, said he was sorry to see Kmart close. “We’re already having a hard time here in this city,” he said. “Now we have a big box store closing ... It’s obviously not a good thing. It’s a shame it’s going to happen to us.”
The city’s general fund could also feel the effects of the closure. The sales tax in Atwater makes up about 21 percent of the general fund, according to the most recent budget.
City Manager Frank Pietro said Kmart is a big tax generator for the city, and the store’s closing would likely affect the town’s economy.
Atwater Mayor Jim Price said the closure of a store the size of Kmart is difficult on the city. “It doesn’t come as a surprise,” Price said. “We’ve heard and seen things where Sears Holdings Corp. has been making indications that they were going to close some stores. We were just hoping it wouldn’t be ours.”
The store will begin its liquidation sales on July 26, according to Riefs. Employees at the store on Tuesday said they expect to work until Oct. 11.
Riefs recommended that customers with items on layaway either pay off the contract early, or transfer their layaway contract to another store or to the online store. There are locations in Los Banos, Ceres and Clovis.
Reporter Brianna Vaccari and The Associated Press contributed to this report.