Astor Place in Manhattan's East Village, the site of the old Wannamaker department store building and a bustling area of city dwellers, workers and college students, was also, until July 11, where Kmart ran a popular, possibly haunted, location.
At least, it seemed popular last week, judging by the number of people who attempted to open its doors but were shocked instead to find them locked. Only then did they notice the signs saying the store is permanently closed, taped alongside others advertising that it is hiring. Inside, a huge "Hello New York" display on one wall loomed over a crowd of naked mannequins. It should have read: "Goodbye."
It's "goodbye" to a diverse set of shoppers. Those approaching the Kmart's street level entrance (there's also access via the subway) included people of all ethnicities and ages, arriving solo and with families, some using canes or strollers. All were confused, having apparently missed the event's social media buzz of the previous few days. Many lamented the short notice, and some demanded they be allowed to scoop up some remaining merchandise, mostly socks and snacks, that could be seen from outside.
The company let employees and customers know only the Friday before that the last day to shop would be Sunday, according to a store security guard named Ernie, who had worked at the location for three years and, on the Wednesday after the closure, popped out from time to time to answer questions. (Everyone interviewed for this story declined to give their last names.)
The Astor Place Kmart was a magical blend of fresh-faced NYU theatre majors snagging props, corporate types picking up office supplies, and mysterious middle aged women who shopped there just so they could pick fights with strangers in the checkout line pic.twitter.com/ibZd6z5uya— ᴍᴀx (@maxtastrophe) July 12, 2021
The retailer seems to have met a need in New York for affordable apparel basics, toys and essentials, which many interviewed worried would now cost more to acquire. So, also on many minds was the question of where to go instead.
"There is no 'instead,'" one defiant woman said. "This is bringing me to Amazon!" said another.
Kmart and its sibling department store Sears, which once dominated the American retail landscape, have been on the decline and closing up shop for years. Kmart shuttered its other Manhattan location, near Penn Station and Macy's Herald Square flagship, last year.
What replaces the retailer at Astor Place is unknown, although New York City real estate publication The Real Deal reported this week that its lease was given up to an unnamed "first-class regional grocer." Requests for more information emailed to landlord Vornado Realty Trust weren't immediately returned.
There was a lot of speculation about that on the street. Some believed that Facebook, which occupies much of the building's office space, would expand. Others thought Amazon might develop it for its increasing brick-and-mortar operation, which includes not only bookstores and Whole Foods but also its new Fresh grocery stores. But most were preoccupied with where to go with Kmart gone.
"It's a shame," said Miriam, who often walked several blocks from home to this Kmart. "All the stores are closing down."
Teddy, a personal trainer who works in the area and frequented the location for jugs of water under $2 and an inexpensive lunch, said the nearby CVS doesn't have such items at similar prices. Jackie L., who lives in the neighborhood, would go to Kmart for cheap T-shirts — which fit well and come in several colors — summertime supplies like kites and beach gear, and "practical stuff." After Ernie let the disappointed crowd know there are still two Kmarts in the Bronx, some people shook their heads and walked away. Jackie scoffed.
"I don't even know how to get to the Bronx," Jackie said, musing about the alternatives. "Macy's or Target, maybe, but even Macy's doesn't have all the stuff they used to. There's no store like it, I'm really mad they closed it. Where are we going to go? Target is more upscale. I will never shop Amazon. Now I have to go all the way to Connecticut to my sister's Walmart."