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Owner cites poor sales for eliminating stores nationwide

Willmar's Kmart store is one of four Minnesota Kmart stores slated to be closed by the Sears Holdings Corporation. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Willmar's Kmart store in the Kandi Mall is on a list of stores slated to be closed by Sears Holdings Corp., the parent company of Sears and Kmart.

Sears Holdings Corp said Tuesday that it would close at least 100 stores to raise cash and that it would no longer prop up "marginally performing" locations. The company pledged to refocus its efforts on stores that make money.

A list of 79 of the 100 to 120 stores to be closed was posted on the Sears media website. Three other Kmart stores in Minnesota on the list are in Duluth, New Hope and White Bear Lake. Sears Holdings did not say when the stores would close.

The company says employment varies by stores and format, and it could not provide the total number of affected employees. The projected closings represent only about 3 percent of Sears Holdings' U.S. stores.

As rivals Wal-Mart and Target Corp. spruced up stores in recent years, Sears Holdings struggled with falling sales and perceptions of dowdy merchandise. Kmart's layaway program, meant to help cash-strapped customers buy presents by paying for them a little at a time, faltered as Walmart and Toy R Us introduced or expanded competing programs.

A manager for the Willmar Kmart said he could not comment on the closing. Kmart has been the anchor store at the south end of the Kandi Mall since 1979.

On Thursday afternoon, reaction to the store's closing among local Kmart-goers was mixed. On the West Central Tribune Facebook page, several people commented that they weren't surprised by the news. One person added that the store "hasn't been remodeled in many, many years, and the stock is always low."

Still, others in the community were disappointed by the announcement.

"I'm shocked," said Joanne Inselmann, of Atwater. "I've been shopping at Kmart ever since they've been here. I think this will really hurt the community."

Sandy Trooien, who was shopping Thursday at Kmart with her granddaughter for after-Christmas sales, said she was "surprised and saddened" by the news.

"I've supported Kmart for a long time, and I shop there to keep them in the community," Trooien said. "I'm an ad shopper, so I go where the ads are, and I can usually find the best deals at Kmart."

Trooien has two grandchildren, and she said she will especially miss Kmart's selection of toys and children's clothes. She'll also miss the store's rewards program, which allowed shoppers to earn points every time they shopped at Kmart and cash them in on future purchases.

Julie Asfeld, of Madison, and her mother Laura Snook, of Stewart, were also surprised to hear of Kmart's closing. They both regularly drive an hour to meet in Willmar and do their shopping.

"We'll usually stop at Walmart, Target and Kmart," Asfeld said. "But we do usually go to the other two before we go to Kmart."

Asfeld said in recent years, the store has appeared to suffer in quality. She said she prefers shopping at Target because it's "cleaner and brighter."

"I think Kmart is a step below Target," she said, "but I still shop there. You never know where you'll find the best deals. I will definitely miss it. It seems like there aren't many Kmarts left anywhere."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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