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Discount Diva: Why Kmart still has its fans

Samantha Christmann

When Kmart announced yet another round of store closures last week, there was a common response.

“We still have a Kmart?”

For now, yes we do. Seven of them, in fact. Six after the one in Olean closes next month.

The discount department store chain has been on death watch for years and is probably not long for this world. But it does have its fans in Buffalo.

Ryan Lysarz of Riverside spent Thursday morning obsessively refreshing the Kmart website to see whether any of his locations were on the latest closing list. (They weren’t.) He’s a very savvy shopper, and Kmart happens to be one of his favorite stores.

“Things I love about Kmart? Where to begin?” he said in an email last week.

• You can buy almost anything at Kmart. They’ve got automotive, tool and garden sections. They sell appliances and mattresses.

I can personally vouch for this. I walked out of there with a steering wheel cover, a frying pan and a retro housedress Friday.

Some have said trying to be all things to all people has hurt Kmart. And it does seem to be an illustration of Kmart’s lack of focus. But it’s obviously working for some people – especially those in places such as Wellsville, where there aren’t a lot of shopping options and it’s important to have a lot of variety in one place.

• Much of the clothing is less expensive than Target and more stylish than Walmart.

“I get more compliments on clothing that I purchase at Kmart than from anywhere else, and everyone is always shocked when I tell them where it came from,” Lysarz said.

• Its Smart Sense private label is well priced and of high quality.

Bargain hunting bloggers have raved about its paper products, aluminum foil, cleaning products and bandages.

• Kmart has great clearance sales.

“They seem to be better about drastically reducing the prices on their clearance items,” Lysarz said.

• Most of all, he loves the coupons and Shop Your Way Rewards points.

The Shop Your Way program lets you earn cash points and cash back on purchases, sometimes even running 100 percent cash-back promotions. You can even earn up to $5 in points when you take Uber and as much as 15 percent back when you shop with its partner companies such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Dollar Tree, Claire’s and Clarks.

Kmart CEO Eddie Lampert has been accused of letting the chain decline while he obsesses over the rewards program. When I checked out recently, I had $8 in points I redeemed. I didn’t know how I got them and I didn’t know they were there, so their rewards marketing could use a little help. But who wouldn’t like a surprise like that?

• “Kmart is one of the last remaining stores from my childhood, so there is that sense of nostalgia that I love,” Lysarz said.

For me, this is Kmart’s greatest appeal. I’ve always said that visiting the store is like hopping into a time machine and setting the dial for Hills in 1989. The store has those same plain, white pegboard shelves; the same bad overhead lighting; I swear they’re even using the same cash registers.

But would we have loved Hills so much if we had sleeker, more customer-focused options to choose from back then? Would we shop there if it were open today?

Since Kmart is much like a version of that store, which was outdated when it closed 18 years ago, the answer for many is apparently no. But that doesn’t mean we won’t miss it once it’s gone.

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