Odd tales from a Kmart store
A news story earlier this month announced that the Kmart Corporation is planning to close two Iowa stores this year, one in Waterloo and another in Sioux City.
One of the 20th century’s leading “dime store” retailers, S.S. Kresge, opened the first Kmart Store in 1962 in Garden City, Michigan, just four months before the first Walmart. By 1981 there were 2,000 Kmart Stores.
By the dawn of the 21st century, however, Kmart was having financial woes and a number of their stores have closed in recent years. This month’s closure announcement hit home. I have many memories of the Kmart Store in Sioux City.
When my family moved to Sioux City in 1974 the city had three big discount stores – Woolco, Bellas Hess Super Center and Kmart. The Bellas Hess store closed within a couple of years and Woolco was nearly a half hour from our house. Kmart was much closer.
In addition, as a young advertising salesman at the Sioux City Journal, the local Kmart Store was one of my accounts. I got to know the manager and some staff and enjoyed working with them. When I later became advertising director at The Journal, I also dealt with Kmart’s regional offices in suburban Chicago.
As a young family struggling to make ends meet, the prices at Kmart were important to us and we shopped there frequently.
When our son was a toddler my wife announced she had accepted an invitation to join a Tuesday evening bowling league. Raised in a home where my father seldom got involved in infant and toddler care, I naively asked my wife, “Who’s going to take care of Dirk while you bowl?”
I quickly learned that I was going to be a modern daddy and would be caring for my two-year-old son myself on Tuesday nights. I knew my son enjoyed riding in a shopping cart so on many Tuesday evenings we spent an hour or two “just looking” at Kmart.
My son figured out that his otherwise frugal daddy loves books and before we left Kmart we usually purchased a Little Golden Book which I read to him when we got home.
As my son grew older he grew bolder and wanted to exit the cart and shop on his own. We cautioned him to stay close. While shopping at Kmart with his mother and me one evening he strayed too far and we lost sight of him. My panic was relieved when I heard a familiar little voice pitifully cry, “Mom… Dad…” We quickly recovered him and he didn’t stray again for a long time.
One evening we took our children, then probably about 10 and six years old, to Kmart to buy new athletic shoes. While they were looking over the shoe display, their mother and I wandered an aisle or two over for a few minutes. When we returned our children were in an aisle a few feet away from the shoe racks and were bent over with laughter.
When pushed for a reason for their mirth, they could hardly speak. Finally, they pointed to an older woman at the shoe racks and told us in school-kid terms that she had a flatulence problem. With each step another aromatic little burst erupted. Trying to keep straight faces ourselves, we explained what aging can do to the human body. My children are approaching middle age and will sadly discover this on their own.
Meanwhile, they still chuckle at the memory of the gassy little lady in the Kmart shoe department.
My wife and I ran to Kmart for some necessities on a windy Spring Sunday. As we exited our car I saw about 50 feet away a buxom middle-aged woman walking toward the store. At that moment a gust of wind lifted her tent-like blouse and exposed… well, she wasn’t wearing a bra. The wardrobe malfunction didn’t seem to bother her but my shocked reaction resulted in prolonged teasing by my wife.
Over the 14 years we lived in Sioux City we were frequent customers at the Kmart Store and purchased a lot of merchandise ̶ everything from cleaning supplies to school clothes to a TV set to car tires. We saw a lot, too.
The Sioux City Kmart store holds a lot of memories for my family.