A big night when I was a kid was having dinner at the Pizza Inn, which has long closed, and then heading over to Kmart to check out the Blue Light Special.
There was so much excitement around Kmart back then. Many of you, I am sure, share wonderful memories that take you back to shopping or work experiences at Statesboro’s one-time premier shopping experience.
Watching the store deteriorate over the years has been like watching the slow death of a friend or family member. It really was not a surprise to anyone when we learned this week that Statesboro’s Kmart had finally received its final death sentence.
Sears Holdings, the parent company of Sears and Kmart stores, told its Statesboro employees Thursday morning that it will close the Statesboro Store between March and April of 2018.
Nationwide, they are closing 100 stores, on top of the hundreds they already have shuttered in the past decade. The first announced closings in 2018 include 64 Kmart stores and 39 Sears stores. Three Kmart’s will close in Georgia. In addition to Statesboro, stores in Albany and Jesup will close. The Centerville Sears Auto Center is the only Sears closing in Georgia.
The Sears Hometown Store in the Statesboro Mall is locally owned by Gary Cooler and is not affected by the closings and will remain open. The Statesboro Sears operates under Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores umbrella, which is a different corporation from Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart.
Kmart entered the Statesboro market in 1976 with the construction of a new store on Fair Road in the current Food World grocery store location across from the Georgia Southern campus. It was at this Kmart store that the former GSU Athletic Director Bucky Wagner purchased a football for the press conference to announce Erk Russell as the head coach to restart the Eagle football program.
Legend has it that Wagner realized moments before the press conference that the college didn’t even own a football at the time. So, he ran across the street to buy one.
Robbie Dannacher, known by many as simply “Mr. D,” was the very first associate hired locally for the “new” Kmart store.
Dannacher went on to serve in management for Kmart and retired last year after working for Kmart for 40 years. He was the face of Kmart for many of us in the community. Those of you who know Dannacher will all agree that he was “Mr. Kmart.”
Dannacher still has the construction sign for the original Kmart Store numbered 9061. He also has the original Blue Light from the famed Blue Light Specials.
“Kmart is like my second family,” he said. “The company was very good to me and my career with them was rewarding and memorable. What really made Kmart special was the fellow employees I worked with all the years and the customers who appreciated what we did for them and our community. Nothing was more rewarding to hear than “hello Mr. D” from a customer or excited store employee.”
Dannacher helped move the store from Fair Road to the current location in 1991. This move also saw the transition to “Big K.” He went on to do the same in Dublin and Milledgeville over the next few years.
“The original store was 67,000 square feet and included an auto center,” he said. “The new store included 94,000 square foot of sales floor in addition to space for stock. We saw the addition of a café and a pharmacy and an expanded garden center, more check outs and lots more merchandise and popular brands.”
Len McCook, now the owner of McCook’s Pharmacy, was the first pharmacy manager at the Big K. When he opened the pharmacy, they had five full-time pharmacists and seven techs. At the height of success, Kmart employed more than 150 full time workers.
“It was not uncommon for many of us to work 85-hour weeks back then, especially during the holiday seasons,” Dannacher said. “Some of my best memories working for Kmart are locking up the store on Christmas Eve after a strong season of sales.”
The store now has less than 10 full-time employees and around 30 part-time staff.
Kmart is located in the Southern Square shopping center and the store’s lease was expiring this year. The shopping center is owned by Hull Property Group, based out of Augusta. Hull also owns the Statesboro Mall, Gentilly Square and University Commons shopping centers in Statesboro.
Jim Hull, owner and managing principal of Hull Property Group released the following statement regarding the closing of Kmart:
“Kmart is closing numerous stores across the country at a rapid rate due to declining sales. This failure is not endemic to Statesboro but reflects the new realities of retail. We recognize these new realities of retail and anticipate working closely with Statesboro and Bulloch County community leadership and other stakeholders to build consensus and an action plan for the desired redevelopment of this facility.
Fortunately this well located and functional facility lends itself to a variety of well-conceived uses such as a grocery operation, warehouse club, or department store. We are enthusiastic about the future of the Southern Square and the Highway US 80 and Brannen Street Connector retail corridor.
We believe it is very important that the facility formerly occupied by Kmart be repurposed or demolished in a manner conducive to a first class retail corridor. The current retail environment is extremely challenging. But, we intend to work hard with community leadership so that this important property doesn’t devolve into a second class retail offering.
We want to promote a new vision of the future of the US 80 and Brannen Street Connector retail corridor. This retail corridor’s future success is necessary for Statesboro to maintain first class retail critical mass to compete with other nearby communities. By working together, we can use this setback as an opportunity for growth and continued success.”