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No more bluelight specials: Maui Kmart to close

Manager: Target took a bite out of the sales from Maui’s first big-box store

Kmart, Maui’s first big-box store, will be closing June 11. The arrival of Target has significantly impacted sales at the store that opened in April 1993. This photo was taken Tuesday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — Kmart — the first big-box store to open on Maui over two decades ago — will close June 11 after sales have been cut in half since the opening of Target, a store manager said Tuesday.

A liquidation sale is set to begin March 30 for the store located next to Costco on Dairy Road, a company official said. The 125 workers may apply for open positions at Sears or other Kmart stores in Hawaii, and those eligible will receive severance pay.

Most of the store’s employees are part-time hourly workers, officials said.

“We can confirm that we are making the difficult, but necessary decision to close the Kmart store,” Howard Riefs, spokesman for Sears Holding Co., said via email. Sears Holding Co. is the parent company of Kmart. “We have been strategically and aggressively evaluating our store space and productivity, and have accelerated the closing of unprofitable stores.”

Many longtime workers gathered near the back of the store consoling one another Tuesday morning. A manager who declined to be identified said that officials from Oahu held a meeting before the store opened Tuesday morning to tell employees of the closing.

Kmart, located at the corner of Hana Highway and Dairy Road, will be closing. A liquidation sale is set to begin March 30. This photo was taken Tuesday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“I’m trying to cheer them up,” the manager said of her co-workers.

A female employee who also declined to be identified said that she has been working for the company since before the Maui store opened in April 1993. She said workers are known for their friendliness, helpfulness and customer service.

“It’s just a bummer when you hear something like that,” she said.

Kmart’s opening on Maui preceded many of the giants that have opened across Kahului. Wal-Mart originally planned to open next to Kmart in the mid-1990s, but pulled out, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. Costco took its place and opened in May 1995.

Wal-Mart opened in the fall of 2001 at the Maui Business Park. Target opened across the street on March 4, 2015.

The Kmart manager said that she has been at the store for over a decade and that sales were in the “triple digits” per day, even with competition from Wal-Mart. When Target opened, though, sales dropped to about $40,000 per day.

“We tried to renovate it to bring people in, but it still didn’t work I guess,” she said.

The manager said that she did not think the store was going to close after the company recently signed a 10-year lease for the 7.3-acre property. She also said that the Kmart near Aloha Stadium, which is set to close next week, transferred a lot of its supplies, a dough maker for Little Caesars Pizza and other materials to the Maui store.

The listed owner of the property is 424 Dairy Road LLC and the lessee is KM Maui LLC, according to property tax records. The 107,000-square-foot building is valued at $7.8 million and the land at $14.3 million.

“I couldn’t believe all the relatives and friends saying we’re going to close,” the manager said. “It’s unbelievable it’s closing.”

On Tuesday, shoppers were also surprised to hear of the store’s closure, and some hoped that the company would change its mind.

“It was nice to come here and get away from the crowd at Wal-Mart,” said Timothy Gass of Kihei. “The crowd at Wal-Mart is going to get worse now. That was the main reason for coming here.”

Gass and his wife, Michelle, regularly visit the store with their 14-month-old son, Ezekiel. They said they would buy “anything and everything” from the store, and it was convenient for visitors to be close to the airport.

“I come all the time so it’s kind of sad to see another store gone,” Michelle Gass said. “When they started the food, oh that was great. I was excited.”

Cyrus Del Rosario of Kahului recalled coming to the store as a child with his grandma. He said he still comes once a week, and on Tuesday was enjoying a slice of pizza at the store with his 7-month-old son, Ryder.

“I used to play around over here,” Rosario said pointing to clothing racks. “I would hide in the clothes with me and my cousins. We’d play hide-and-seek. Sometimes we’d be in the store for hours.”

Shelley Swenson of Lahaina had clothes, toiletries, a birthday card and other items in her shopping cart Tuesday. She said she comes to the store once in a while and it was “nice to have an alternative” to Wal-Mart and Target.

“I’m so sad,” Swenson said. “I came from Utah and they’re closing Kmart stores all over there so I thought this one over here was never going to leave.”

Dave Hummel of Kihei said he enjoyed the store’s “Bluelight Specials” and found a big jug of apple juice the other day on sale for a quarter.

“It sucks,” Hummel said. “I’m sad to see any place close. It feels like every time you turn around some other place is closing. I mean the Savers just closed.”

While shoppers enjoyed Kmart’s slow pace and uncrowded aisles on Tuesday, they realized it spelled the downfall of the store. Many of them identified Target as the biggest hit.

“It’s not as busy as it used to be and traffic has dwindled,” Timothy Gass said. “It got really bad when Target opened. Once Target opened, you got Wal-Mart and Target right there, there’s no need to go to Kmart. Once something new comes up, everybody goes there.”

Many of the workers did not have any immediate plans for after the store closes, but the longtime employee said that she will be there until the end.

“We have to because we started it,” she said. “It’s not nice to just bail out when this kind of time is coming. I feel that. It’s only fair to just go down with the ship. We all made a pact that we would do that.

“We’re going to stay to the end and we’re going to have fun.”

The closure follows January’s announced shutdown of 64 Kmart stores in 28 states. Maui’s only Kmart location was not listed in the original announcement.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.