Kmart started out as the S. S. Kresge Corporation in 1899. Its store count peaked in the early 1990s at over 2,400 locations. That made it, for a brief time, a worthy competitor to Walmat. Today, there is almost nothing left of Kmart. As of Dec. 15, Kmart had only 27 locations in operation.
The decline of Kmart began just after its location count peaked. It began to close stores in 1994, and closures accelerated for the next decade. In 2002, Kmart entered Chapter 11.
While in bankruptcy, much of its debt was purchased by billionaire investor Eddie Lampert, who won control of the company. By 2003, the company exited bankruptcy, and Lampert merged it with Sears, another century-old faltering retailer, which at one point had been the largest retailer in America. The deal to combine the two retailers was worth $11 billion. Lampert took over as head of the new company.
Lampert wanted to maintain the two brands, as each one had different customer demographics. Together, the stores had a much larger footprint than either did separately, but the aim was to achieve cost saving by merging administration costs of the two. “This is going to be an enormous undertaking,” Lampert said at the time. “We’re really not looking to have two separate cultures. We’re hoping to blend these into one great culture.”
Lampert eventually ruined the company and virtually extinguished both brands. (These are the only 25 Sears stores left in America.)
What happened to Kmart (and Sears)? Several challenges and mismanagement contributed to the demise of the two. Management did not spend money to modernize stores. It spent too little to upgrade to technology that would have allowed sophisticated tracking of inventory and sales. This put it at an efficiency disadvantage with other large national retailers.
Another problem Kmart faced was the extraordinary rise of Walmart and, to a lesser extent, Target. Walmart deftly managed rapid store expansions and was particularly strong at managing deep discounts to bring in customers. Today, Walmart, which has over 4,700 stores in America, is the largest U.S. employer and the largest U.S. company based on revenue. (This is the state with the most Walmart stores.)
Finally, Kmart faced the juggernaut that wrecked much of America’ bricks-and-mortar retailers. Amazon.com, founded in 1994, completely changed the way that people shopped. Consumers no longer had to leave their homes to buy what they used to physically — which often involved a car trip, parking, walking through large stores, and waiting in lines.
Sears Holdings, the name of the umbrella company that owned Sears and Kmart went into Chapter 11 in 2018. It began to liquidate inventory and close increasingly more stores.
Only 27 Kmart stores are still in operation today. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data company ScrapeHero’s list of the remaining Kmart stores. These are their locations.