The End of the Blue-Light Era
The chipped, off-white tile flooring. The tarped-off former Little Caesar’s Café. The complete lack of customer service. It’s always a trip down memory lane every time I step into a K-Mart store and I had the opportunity, nay, PRIVILEGE to step into two of them this weekend.
First, let me be clear: I gave up on K-Mart a long time ago. Once Little Caesar’s left, with no miniature Crazy Bread at slightly-above room temperature, there was nothing left for me at my hometown retailer. The only way I would step foot in a K-Mart recently was out of sheer desperation or to score half-price Halloween candy on Nov. 1 every year.
This past weekend was a mix of both reasons. The first trip to K-Mart was to get some much-needed ink for the printer. As with most things at K-Mart, there is only one of everything. Fortunately, I was the only person in Indianapolis needing this ink … today. But unfortunately for me, the ink was locked on the rod and required an employee to unlock it.
Being in electronics – an area with many locked goods – I figured an employee would be near by, but after going down every aisle in electronics, and then toys, office supplies, home goods, sporting goods and every other department in the store, Caitlyn and I were convinced we were in some sort of creepy abandoned K-Mart. No employees anywhere. Toss a few tumbleweeds through the store and you get the idea. In the end, she went to the cash registers at the front and was able to convince somebody to page an employee to the rest of the store and all was well.
Little did we know that was just a primer for Day 2 of our K-Mart krapfest. Up this time was the K-Mart closest to our home, which also happens to be going out of business along with one of the other three remaining locations in Indy. It’s worth noting I have promised Caitlyn several times before that I would never step foot in this K-Mart again, but, as they say, history repeats itself and who can resist 10 percent off going-out-of-business brownies?
We shopped for a little bit with the intention of buying loads of Christmas presents for those who still needed presents: A half-price beer kit! A 40-percent off iPhone speaker system! A 60-percent off Game of Thrones book collection! Yeah, discount gifts!
Reality: We got into the checkout lane with 20-30 percent off super glue, wiper blades, Halloween candy, a bicycle flat repair kit and a book on canning, all of which was for us, no less. The deals weren’t quite where we hoped they’d be. It was more like being in a poor man’s Bed, Bath & Beyond with one of those ubiquitous and never-expiring blue 20-percent off coupons.
Now the checkout lane is normally where we get tripped up at K-Mart, when the clerks take about five times longer than necessary to check everyone out, but given almost all the checkout lanes were open today, we figured we finally hit some good luck. Boy, were we wrong.
The older tattooed woman in front of us, looking lovely in a snug pink and black top that probably was a better idea 25 years ago, very methodically pulled her haul from the cart to the conveyer belt, treating every object like it was a Faberge egg, when, in fact, most items were closer in quality to a Cadbury egg. Once the clerk scanned all the items and told the women her total would be $77, the woman stared back in disbelief.
“$77? That can’t be right. It was all on sale.”
“Yes,” one of the store managers replied. “But everything was only 20 percent off, which isn’t all that much.”
Forlorn and thoroughly befuddled, the shopper decided she would need to re-inventory everything she bought, so she started having the clerk unpack her bags and placing every single item on the conveyer belt while she racked her brain to see how she could make it work. Chances are, she was probably paying with food stamps so she had to make some pretty serious decisions – most the clientele is lower-income – but why not do that at Customer Service, rather than holding up several other shoppers?
By now, it had been a good 15 minutes in line, when, thankfully another line opened up next to us, but before we could get there, a small, elderly Asian woman beat us (hey, luging around wiper blades tires a man out). Of course, the first item she wanted scanned, a pair of hedgers, had no barcode, which stumped the clerk and required a manager consultation. After that setback, the shopper seemed to also be having troubles, primarily with figuring out how to pay with a credit card. After another 10 minutes waiting in line, we finally made it to the front and succeeded with getting our merch. Total time spent in lines? Thirty minutes. Naturally, I once again promised Caitlyn to never go back to that K-Mart ever again.
There was a time when I liked K-Mart. I remember going there as a child when the selection was good, the customer service was nice and the stores were a dime a dozen, making them a convenient option. I remember grabbing meals with my family in the cafes there, which later on became Little Caesar cafes, and it being one of the few places close enough to walk to from my family’s new house after we moved when I was in middle school.
But after both experiences this past weekend, it’s no wonder why the chain is going bankrupt. It’s unfortunate to see that 160 Hoosiers will soon loose their jobs from these two closings, but so long as it requires jumping through hoops to get an ink cartridge, or the inventory is small and dated – one location still had blank VHS tapes for sale! Really? – K-Mart will soon be going the way of Crowley’s, Montgomery Ward and all those other bygone retailers.