K-Mart closing leaves void, shoppers worry about lost jobs

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 22, 2002


LAPLACE – It was an announcement no small community likes to hear. Attention K-Mart shoppers, your local store will soon close its doors.

Local shoppers expressed different opinions on how the area would change after learning of the corporation’s March 8 pronouncement that 284 of its under-performing stores would shut their doors forever in order to help the company raise capital and aid its bankruptcy status.

“It will affect the area a lot. A lot of people will lose jobs,” Sonia Cenac said.

“I don’t know that it will affect much, but it will definitely affect the people working here,” Pat Hille said.

St. John the Baptist Parish President Nicky Monica said the parish economy would be affected by the loss of such a large employer but he tried to put the best face on the impending closure.

“As far as economically, we’ll lose some tax sales, but I’m sure we’ll find other local businesses to make our purchases. There’s a loss of jobs, and in these times, that’s where the parish government has to recruit other businesses to come in and take their place,” Monica said.

The futures of the employees is what bothers shoppers the most.

Locally, 70 people will lose their jobs after the store closes, Julie Fracker, director of K-Mart media relations, said. Nationally, 22,000 will be laid off.

The rate of layoffs will vary depending on each store and the bankruptcy court’s ruling on the reorganization.

“We expect they will approve our list,” Fracker said. “The entire list is subject to approval. But the stores will close 60 to 90 days after (the ruling).”

She said most employees will stay until the end, but many may elect to find other jobs sooner.

“There may be a store closing incentive bonus to get people to stay until the end, but this has not been finalized or determined,” Fracker said.

The local customers also agreed that losing K-Mart is a negative sign for the parish.

“Being as we don’t have many other stores around, they shouldn’t close. We’ll only have Wal-Mart left. Who will they compete against?” Cenac said.

“I don’t think (closing the store) is that great. It just leaves another open space. There’s the old (K-Mart) building down the street (Airline Highway), and then there will be this one. They just can’t keep business going around here,” Toby Cambre said.

Nicky Monica said his administration met with MetroVision, an economic development division of the Chamber of Commerce, four months ago to discuss marketing vacant buildings.

“We’re recruiting all the time, always looking. Businesses that left had leases as a marketing strategy to eliminate competition from locating there,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s not in the parish’s control. The corporations have leases to keep the competition out.”

APC Commercial Real Estate handles commercial properties in the parish. Broker Carl Monica said plans are underway for several of the vacant buildings located along Airline Highway.

“Well, at the present time, Wal-Mart is looking at Delchamps, but that’s held up because there are some leases – a restrictive covenant,” he said. “It may be the near future or a while before we know.”

The building would become a Super Wal-Mart if the potential deal goes ahead.

“They would just expand into Delchamps, add a grocery department. If it doesn’t happen, they would possibly relocate,” he said.

Nicky Monica said the parish has not heard anything definite from Wal-Mart about its plans.

The “old” K-Mart building is leased to an operation company that does fabrication. Once the new K-Mart closes, it may be leased to one of several companies looking at the property.

“There are a couple of retailers are looking. There’s no specific tenant, but a few are looking. It could be a grocer or a discounter,” Carl Monica said. “It could divide into two or three smaller tenants. There’s no particular plan and a lot of possibilities.”

He said the Winn-Dixie building is on hold.

“They are still controlling the building until October. We’re working to get someone in there,” Carl Monica said. “It takes a long time and a lot of research and money. We and they have to make sure it makes sense economically before they move in.”

Nicky Monica said the parish uses some incentives, like employee tax breaks, discounts on sales taxes and training programs through the Louisiana Technical College to attract retailers.

While some customers are sorry to lose the convenience of the LaPlace store, others are not as bothered by that so much as by the loss of competing stores.

“We’ll have no choice,” Cambre said. “We’ll have to go to Wal-Mart.”

Cenac shared his opinion. “If you see something at Wal-Mart, it might be cheaper than K-Mart. Sometimes, something will be cheaper at K-Mart than Wal-Mart. There will be no place to compare prices.”

Carl Monica said many people complain there is not another supermarket in the area.

“There’s Winn-Dixie and a couple of small ones, but definitely room for possibly two more. Super Wal-Mart is aggressive. A lot of others are just nervous about going head-to-head with them. If it does happen, there would be room for at least one more grocer,” he said.

With K-Mart closing, other customers said they will have to go not only to Wal-Mart, but to dollar stores and other K-Marts.

Verdial Allen said she will just drive to Gonzales or another location, but will miss her local K-Mart store.

“The K-Mart by Elmwood Fitness Center (in Harahan) will be open, so I’ll still be able to shop there. There’s also Wal-Mart. But I enjoyed the sales here, ” Hille said.

“But what’s an option if you have no transportation elsewhere?” Cenac said.

For a while, the sales will be enough to tempt customers. Fracker said sales will continue as normal until the hearing. K-Mart will then need to approve a liquidator, who will go to each store to help liquidate the sales.

“Most of our items will sell through,” she said. “They will keep increasing the sales on merchandise until it’s all cleared out.”

Some customers said they were surprised to learn their store would be closing, but others said they expected it.

“I’ve been coming to K-Mart off and on since it was in the old building, in 1980-something,” Hille said. “Customer service is terrible. People didn’t shop here because they had to wait too long in line. If they had better customer service, they may have had better sales.”

Nicky Monica said he is saddened by the loss.

“It’s unfortunate, but it happens. It was a corporate decision, and doesn’t reflect on the local economy. Locally, we’re doing well, but recently, corporations have been shutting down,” he said. “It’s across the nation, not just local. It’s unfortunate that it does happen, with the sales taxes and especially the employment.”

Managers and employees at the LaPlace K-Mart declined to comment for this article.