Sunday, December 23, 2018

Kmart #3381 - Fort Pierce, FL (Pre-Closure)

Kmart #3381
2111 S. Federal Highway (US 1), Fort Pierce, FL - Gateway Plaza (originally Kmart Plaza until a few years ago)

     This Kmart opened in 1976 in a building that was originally home to a Grant's City store. The Grant's originally opened in 1971. This Kmart will close forever in March 2017 after being included in the early 2017 Sears Holdings closure wave of 150 Sears and Kmart stores.

     I've covered a good number of Kmart closings over these last few years, and the closure of the Fort Pierce Kmart is no exception. This post will be part 1 of a two part series on this store, with the first post focusing on this store under normal operations. The second part of this series will look at this store as the closure process was underway, with some interesting photos and perspectives to come in that post. Anyway, let's get started on out tour of the Fort Pierce Kmart:

     This store was one of the most poorly kept Kmart stores I've ever been to, and the company has been letting this building rot away slowly over the years. At one time, this store was actually a powerhouse for Kmart. Kmart once had district offices in this store, and used it as a base for district and regional meetings within the company. Unfortunately, ever since SHC took control, this store began to severely deteriorate. Even though this Kmart is on the opposite end of town from the local Walmart, it just couldn't hold its own anymore. With this store beginning to suffer from falling sales in addition to Kmart's 40 year lease on the building finally hitting its expiration, SHC couldn't have found a better time to call it quits in Fort Pierce. In 2013, the local newspaper leaked that Kmart wasn't interested in renewing their lease here when it expired at the end of 2016, so I've been preparing myself for when this store would meet its end for a while. This Kmart, even though it was never one of my favorites, was actually my local Kmart for a good number of years. It's a bit bittersweet seeing this store meet its end, even though I knew it was coming. Ironically, it was just recently announced that Walmart is planning to open a Neighborhood Market in this plaza's vacant Winn-Dixie space in the near future (as of late 2018, I'm not sure if anything has come of those plans). I kind of wish this Kmart could have stuck around just long enough to where we could have seen a Kmart co-exist in the same plaza as a Walmart, but it wasn't meant to be. With Kmart leaving, Walmart might as well just cancel those Neighborhood Market plans and come in and build a Supercenter at this site with extra space opening up. This part of town isn't most retailers' #1 choice as a place to locate, so I can see the old Kmart building sitting for a good long while here (and as of late 2018, it still sits empty).

     As you may have seen over the last few years, Kmart has gone around and removed the "BIG" portions of the Big Kmart signs at certain stores as a poor excuse at an update attempt. However, the reason the Fort Pierce Kmart had its "BIG" sign removed has a bit of a stranger backstory to it. A few years back on a dark, stormy night, some sneaky employees from the Big Lots across the street stole the "BIG" portion of Kmart's sign to replace part of their own broken sign. OK, that's not the true story, but wouldn't that have been interesting if it was! The actual odd story of how the Fort Pierce Kmart lost its "BIG" sign happened in the mid-2000's. One of the store managers wasn't happy with how the sign was so badly faded, so they sent an employee up to the roof with a few buckets of paint to repaint the sign. Apparently, that employee did such a horrific repainting job that Kmart had to have the "BIG" portion of the sign removed completely, and had the "K" professionally recoated with sign paint, leaving what you see up there today.

     Like most KGrants, Kmart didn't change around the exterior all that much other than closing in a few of the front windows. The interior is the same story, although that's a speech for another photo.

     Another close-up of the front of the building. Kmart kept two of Grant's original windows (one to each side of the doors), but closed in the rest. In relation to this photo, l_dawg200 asked, "Is it just me, or is there a noticable dip in the overhang roofline on the right side? Also looks like the big upper facade has a twist to it!" Even though this building was in pretty sad shape, it wasn't to the point where the roof was sagging in (I hope anyway)! That dip you see in some of these exterior photos was because my hand shook when I took these pictures, because those dips aren't there in person.

     One last look at the exterior as we slowly work our way inside...

     Looking down the front walkway from somewhere over on the left side of the building. The entrance is behind that Primo water machine in the distance. This view isn't quite as interesting as this similar photo from an early 70's Kmart. Retail Retell agreed: "Nope. The arches make that other one for sure!"

     The entrance and exit doors, as viewed from a left approach.

     Another look at the main entrance and exit, this time from the opposite side. The doors are open for us, so let's go inside...

     The first department you run into upon entering the Fort Pierce Kmart is girl's clothing, located immediately to the right of the front entrance. One thing you'll notice along the front are those random red diamonds on the wall. I've never been able to figure out what those were from, as I don't remember diamonds in any of Kmart's interior decors. Since this was a former Grant's store, as usual, the tiles in here are of the funky avocado green type, randomly mismatched with about 8 different colors and styles of tiles throughout the store. I have better photos of that coming later though. Also to note, my photos from here were taken on two different trips. One time half the lights were off and the other time all of the lights were on. This store was very dark during that time where the lights were half off, and my phone wasn't liking the dim lighting during that visit (as usual), so most of the photos from that day look a bit off like this.

     Continuing further into the store we see the front main aisle dead ends at the fitting rooms. As Random Retail commented, "[That's the] smallest sign I've seen for Fitting Rooms", which is true from my observation as well. Women's clothing is to my left, and the baby department is to my right. The funny looking gray thing to the right of the fitting rooms is a portion of the old restaurant space, which I'll talk about more in just a moment.

     Turning around for a look back at where we just came from. The front registers lie just beyond the girl's clothing department, and the jewelry counter lies behind that gray shelf with the hand lotions on it.

     Another photo looking back toward the front end, this time taken from a spot a bit closer to the fitting rooms. As YonWooRetail2 noted, "Looking at that ceiling, you can tell this is a deteriorating Kmart."

     Boy's clothing takes up most of the space along the right side wall of this store.

     This is an aisle that cuts between the women's clothing and the accessories department, looking toward the back of the store here. This aisle almost lines up perfectly with the original Grant's racetrack, which is marked by the white tiles bordered by the darker avocado green trim. Kmart's aisle boundary is marked by the gray lines that look a bit off. 

     Immediately to the right of the fitting rooms is the former Grant’s Restaurant space.  With the way the aisles were laid out here, getting a picture of the wooden awning that extended out into the sales floor was a bit difficult. The last restaurant to operate out of this space closed a long time ago, probably in the early 2000's at the latest. The restaurant space has been home to the “layaway cafeteria” (as I’ve heard employees call it over the intercom when paging other employees to this area). It’s just a space for storage now, probably a good bit of which were people’s layaway items. gameking3 found a similar awning in his travels at the now closed La Porte, Indiana Kmart, which you can view here.

     Looking down that aisle in front of the old restaurant. This aisle is located on the very edge of the baby department, although there weren’t any baby supplies in this aisle. The line of clothes on the shelf to the right were just some random clearance clothes, and that stuff in front of the old restaurant were bins of repacks, broken merchandise, open packages, and other random junk.

     Nobody was around, so I decided to reach my phone over the plywood wall and get a picture of the interior of the old restaurant space. This horribly blurry photo was the result of that. (I was a bit paranoid that there was an employee back here who might have seen me do this, or that someone would sneak up on me in the aisle). Anyway, you can still see some of the details of the dining area in this photo. The kitchen area is off to the left I presume, somewhere behind all of those boxes!

     Moving away from the old restaurant now, traveling further into the back right portion of the store. In the foreground is a portion of the boy’s clothing department, with the fitting rooms and the restaurant off in the distance. As YonWooRetail2 noted, "Those gray lines that go around the clothing displays and up the aisles look like duct tape until you zoom in." They actually do, especially if you've never been to this store in person. However, if these lines were placed in the SHC era, they more that likely would have been real duct tape!

     In the back right corner of the store lies the layaway counter and the restrooms, with men’s clothing to my left. The layaway area is just a portion of the sales floor blocked off by those semi-permanent clothing display racks. I think somehow this space connects in with the old restaurant up in the front of the store. Retail Retail suggested that connection works "by secret tunnel, maybe? :P" With Kmart, you never know!

     Now we're looking down one of the main aisles that cuts through the clothing department, in the direction of the front of the store and the fitting rooms. Women's clothing is to my right.

     A photo of one of the other main aisles in the clothing department, also looking toward the front of the store. As Retail Retell commented, "Those lines not following the patterns of the tile bugs me XD" It bugs me too, honestly! I think Kmart should have used the old Grants alignment in this aisle, as it was close enough and there wouldn't be all those lines all over the place. On a more positive note though, styertowne said, "I love these pea-soup-colored tiles. They are exclusive to all the stores which were originally Grants. (And there are a lot of them still out there--especially in PA)"

     Time to move away from clothing to explore more of the back part of the store. As we move away from clothing, sporting goods is the first department we come across. You can also see Grant's old racetrack aisle clearly in this photo.

     Here we're looking back toward clothing from sporting goods and shoes.

     A similar photo to the previous one, this time taken from just a bit further back.

     This store was able to keep its sporting goods counter and register all the way to the end, as well as the locked cases behind it containing mostly paintball guns/supplies and knives. There was also a computer where you could by fishing and hunting licenses too, although I don't know how many of those Kmart sells anymore.

     A look down the main back aisle, looking from sporting goods toward furniture and electronics.

     Another photo of the back aisle from almost the same spot. This photo was from the time when half the lights were off in here, whereas the other photo was taken when all of the lights were on. My phone's odd camera makes this area seem brighter than it actually was back here this day. It was actually quite dark back here with half of the lights off!

     A look at a portion of the furniture department. There were more couches, recliners, and tables to my right that I didn't get a photo of.

     Returning to the main back aisle for this photo, where we're now approaching the appliance and electronics departments. Those two departments will be the focus of the next portion of this post.

     Here we see our first glimpse at the electronics and appliance departments, as seen from the end of one of the shoe aisles. A good amount of early 90's Kmart decor still clings to life back here.

     This store was definitely toward the bottom of the spectrum as far as the presentation and selection of the appliance department was concerned. I think there were only 4 or 5 appliance options in total here, all of which were located in the center of this double wide aisle. To make the department seem fuller, some box stock appliances were also placed on the floor to take up what would otherwise be empty space.

     The back of the electronics department featured the wall of TVs (none of which were on). While many Kmart stores have scaled back much of their electronics departments, I've noticed (at least around here) that most stores still have a good variety of TVs to choose from.

     Even outside of the TVs, this store still had a decent electronics section compared to most other Kmarts (as of early 2016 when these photos were taken). This store did have its electronics counter removed in recent years, though. The counter's approximate location was where those boxed TVs currently are.

     Triangle, triangle, on the wall, are any of those television brands still around at all?! 

     In this photo we have another overview of the electronics department. As for those TV brands on the wall (and to answer our looming question), this is what the magic early 90's Kmart triangle had to say: Sony, Magnavox, and RCA are still very much involved in the consumer electronics business and still make TVs (you can even see an RCA TV box in this picture). Panasonic no longer makes TVs, instead focusing on the production of other small electronics these days. White Westinghouse hasn't produced a television since the early 2000's, and was at one time the exclusive electronics brand for Kmart. White Westinghouse now focuses on making major appliances (stoves, refrigerators, etc.) 

     I guess 3 out of 5 signs still being accurate isn't too bad. Although out of those three brands that still make TVs listed up there on the wall, you're a bit out of luck if you want to buy a Magnavox TV at Kmart - Kmart no longer carries that brand.

     This "Dollar Palooza" display looked like a relatively new addition to the store when I took this photo, and uses signage based off of Kmart's current "fun oriented" marketing campaign. This was supposed to be a display of items that cost $5 or less, all of which were housewares oriented.

     Moving on from electronics we find the lone aisle of office supplies and stationary products. This aisle just dead ends at the back wall, which is a bit odd. Random Retail and Retail Retell agreed to that sentiment.

     While the office supply aisle dead ends at the back wall, this small sliver was left between the end of the office supply aisle and the electronics department. They did keep a few cell phone cases in this corner, however passing through here is a bit of a challenge if you chose to do so. It would have involved climbing on the bottom shelf on the back wall and bending around a few pegs, so it didn't look like a recommended connection point!

     Looking from the back left portion of the store back toward clothing, and the portions of the store we already covered.

      Moving along now to the food/pantry department. Here we see the beverage aisle, where the cases of water were looking a bit sparse.

     The center aisle that splits the food department from housewares. Here you can see the old Grant's racetrack once again, this time mostly blocked by Kmart's shelving.

     The snack food and dry grocery aisle, which looked well stocked during this visit. Today this aisle is probably near empty, if not already disassembled.

     Off to the edge of the food department we see the soft home department. This department is located in the front middle portion of the store.

     Looking across the front of the store from the food department. Behind the Little Debbie display lie the registers, and out of frame to my immediate right is health and beauty. As our resident Little Debbie expert YonWooRetail2 commented, "That's a pretty large Little Debbie Display for a Kmart! I can tell the local distributor doesn't go crazy with loading it down either. With lower volume stores like Kmart, that's just not a good idea, especially since the Little Debbie brand in particular has a short shelf life of 3-6 weeks."

     Health and beauty is located in the front left corner of the store. This store doesn't have a pharmacy, and I don't think it ever did.

     Looking down the left wall of the store from the front left corner. Just ahead of me health and beauty transitions into the seasonal department.

     Again we have another view of the front registers from the front main aisle. From this angle we can see the health and beauty sign, as well as an empty balloon net hanging from the ceiling behind that.

     These emergency exit doors lie along the left side wall, between health and beauty and seasonal. I took this photo because of the triangle era anti-theft alarm decal on the door.

     A look at some of the patio furniture that took up much of the seasonal department during my visit here.

     Looking down the main left side aisle, which runs between seasonal and food. Further down this aisle lies the hardware and automotive departments, which we will take a look at in a little bit. However, if you've been paying attention to any of these previous photos, you may have noticed that one major department seems to be missing from the sales floor here: toys. Coming up in the next few photos, we'll be diverting into the Fort Pierce Kmart's oddly located and quite unusual toy department - probably the most unique part of this entire store!

     Behind all of the seasonal merchandise lies this giant archway, through which shoppers will be transported into the Kmart toyland...

     Here's our first look at the Fort Pierce Kmart's unique toy department. The toy department here is located in its own isolated room in the far left portion of the building, tucked in front of the garden center. I believe the toy department here was carved out of a portion of the former Auto Center during the Big Kmart remodel in the late 90's (as that's as far back as I can trace this department being in this location). I've seen some former Kmart Auto Centers repurposed as Garden Centers, but never have I seen the toy department get shoved out here other than at this store! That door in the distance leads into the indoor portion of the garden center, which we will take a look at later in this post.

     In this photo we're looking back toward the archway we walked through. In addition to the regular toys, inflatable pools, pool toys, and pool supplies were also kept in here.

     Now we transition to the back wall of the toy department. Above the shelves to my left were a series of windows, which let in a good bit of natural light to this department. I'm not 100% sure about this, but I believe the odd red tiles in here signify where the old auto center waiting area/automotive center sales floor was, and date back to Grants. I think the white tiles were added by Kmart when they turned this area into the toy department and expanded it into a portion of the old auto bays. The original dividing wall between the bays and the waiting area would have been right in front of me, where the tiles transition.

     One of the toy aisles, looking toward the wall with the windows. This happens to be the aisle where the floor tiles transition from the odd red to the plain white tiles.

     Another one of the toy aisles. From this aisle you can see back through the arch into the main store. That pole off to the right looks to have been the home of a price scanner at one time, as the empty bracket that would have held one is still there.

     Rather than being kept near sporting goods like in most other Kmart stores, the bicycles were kept out here with the toys.

     Yet another toy aisle.

     A look across the back wall of the toy department. That wall in the background separates the toy department from the remainder of the auto center that has been sealed off for years. Daniel Westfall had this to say about the flooring in this portion of the store: "What stands out to me is the floor on this one. Pretty unique for a K-Mart store."

     Behind the shelves of toys lies this giant rollaway door that's no longer used, and serves as a relic of this area's days as the auto center.

     When I put these photos together, I had thought this door was in the toy department. Actually, this is the door that led into the abandoned auto bays from the main store and is located back in the seasonal department. At least it was from the same side of the store as toys! Anyway, let's get back on track and finish up our look at the toy department...

     One final photo of the toy department before we head toward that set of doors in the distance...

     These doors separate the toy department from the interior portion of the garden center. Also, a 90's Kmart decal still survives on this door!

     Passing through that door into the garden center. Here we can see the back side of that old decal, as well as much of the front aisle of the toy department.

     Even though that last photo took us into the garden center, we're going to jump ahead to a few photos of the back left corner of this store before heading back to there. The photo you see above was taken near the hardware department, looking back in the direction of the seasonal merchandise.

     An aisle in the automotive department. Commenting on the strange stains on the floor, YonWooRetail2 said, "I know it wouldn't make sense for this area, but it looks like bleach spilled somewhere near the shelves and stained the floor." It really does, honestly, but I don't know how those stains got there. For all we know, these stains could date back to Grant's!

     Looking down the left side wall from the hardware department we have this view. The arches of toyland lie not too far in front of me down this aisle. You can see where some of the red tiles spill into the main store.

    From the hardware department we can see the leftover triangle era Garden Shop sign. This sign is located just off to the right from the main interior door to the garden center. In addition to the Garden Shop signage, you can also see a large roof leak next to it too.

     A closeup of the Garden Shop sign.

     In addition to the old Garden Shop sign still hanging around on the wall, there was also that newer sign hung right above the door.

     The interior portion of the garden shop lies through these tied up folding doors. I always associate this door style with CVS and Hills, who use/used these style doors quite often at their stores. For a Kmart, they're a bit unique.

     This is the part of the garden center you see walking in through those folding doors. The interior portion of the garden center here is L-shaped, with a few aisles of gardening supplies to my right. That open door you see in the distance is the garden center's exterior entrance, which was just a set of emergency exit doors left propped open. The garden center entrance was a popular side entrance for shoppers here.

     This is one of the aisles that branches off to the right after entering the garden center from the main store. This aisle was home to lawn chemicals and other yard supplies.

     The back part of the garden center looks like this. Those emergency exit doors lead into the fenced in area that makes up the exterior portion of the garden center.

     Now time for a quick look around the exterior portion of the garden center. Here I have just stepped outside, and am looking back through the doors toward the garden center register inside.

     The outdoor portion of the garden center here is odd. It's located in the back left portion of the building, and part of it wraps around the back of the building. Beyond the lush and colorful plants were some pallets of dirt and pavers, as well as an employee using a hose to wash the concrete floor.

     Whoever was in charge of watering the plants here was slipping up. While most of the plants here didn't look too bad, these poor pepper plants didn't have much of a chance. At this point, the only person who would pay $3.69 for a dead pepper plant would be Morticia Addams.

     Here is out last interior photo of the Fort Pierce Kmart (for now), featuring the Thank You sign above the front door as well as a closeup of one of those mysterious diamonds.

     Jumping back over toward the garden center side of the building. Here you can see the store's Garden Center exterior signage. The set of gray doors left propped open is the exterior entrance to the garden center, which doesn't look very inviting from outside.

     Behind this wall is the toy department. I just now realized from looking closely at this photo that the spots where the windows are were also home to garage doors, now closed in. I guess that throws out my theory about this space which I mentioned a few photos back when we were touring the toy department.

     To the right of the toy department wall is this, the still abandoned portion of the auto center. My new guess is that the toy department was this store's original auto center. At some point, the auto center must have been moved to this spot at the front left corner of the building. Or maybe this place just had a really big 12 bay auto center at one time. I doubt the latter reason, but I really don't know what the actual story is. Until the closing, these old auto bays were being used for storage. You can take a small peek inside  some of these bays in this video, taken during a fire at this store in 2013 (that fire was intentionally started by a shopper, who set a display of paper towels on fire for some reason. That fire closed the store for a few days).

     Making our way around the front of the building once again, here we can see what the exterior of the former Grant's/Kmart Restaurant looked like. Most, if not all of Grant's Restaurants originally used the name Bradford House.

     Yet another look at the former restaurant, and more unnecessary waving of the building due to my shaky hand. 

     A closeup of the front of the restaurant from Kmart's front walkway. Some old signs were stored against the door, just a portion of the stuff that was most recently being stored in here.

     The windows of the former restaurant still contain some remnants from the signage of this space's last occupant. The big oval is from the restaurant's old logo (I can't make out much from it), but the writing on the next window down looks to read "Homemade goodness you can taste".

     And with the restaurant's exterior photos out of the way, that's essentially all of the high points from the Fort Pierce Kmart! We will conclude our tour of this Kmart with one final look at the storefront from the days of normal operation. Before too long, I'll post the photos I took of this store during the closing process, which like I said before, provide some interesting (yet sad) looks at this store from one month and two months into the closing process.

So until the next post,


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