Kmart had the toys Santa Claus needed

Things unforeseen can be so odd. Such as, it never occurred to me that I would be nostalgic for a Kmart store, but I find it so. Platte County’s old familiar Kmart store at 7100 N.W. Prairie View Road carried bravely on into the holidays. But as Christmas neared, near-naked shelves and store closing sale signs told a sad tale. An old reliable is to be no more.

Bill Graham

Bill Graham

So many things that once seemed so permanent are going or gone.

In this Christmas season of good will to all, in the retail business world where we acquire our gifts to show love and friendship, ruthless and cold-blooded competition closes institutions big and small. People from cashiers to career managers hit the streets jobless.

Over time, my opinion of this particular Kmart morphed from disdain of its gaudiness to appreciation. Unfortunately for Kmart, the less busy it got, the more I liked shopping there, but I don’t buy much in a year’s time.

Kmart and Sears are leaking retail rafts lashed together, which is a melancholy thing this holiday for baby boomers. Christmas was the glorious time for new riches in my boyhood. The little green army men, electric trains and toy guns likely came from Sears. I gazed dreamily for hours at the Christmas toy catalog.

Thus came a bit of a heart tug when in 2004 the newspaper headlines announced that Kmart was buying Sears for $11 billion. Both stores have retail roots in the late 1800s. My viewpoint was skewed, however, by a longtime relationship with Sears. Kmart seemed like a cheap interloper, one I first met when I arrived in Platte County in 1981.

I supposed in hindsight we should be grateful that Kmart believed in Platte County long before any of the other big box retail powerhouses did. I don’t know when the store on Prairie View Road was built and opened, but it beat me here.

The Interstate 29 corridor had very little retail just a few decades ago. Sears and the other big chain retailers served the Northland from the old Antioch Shopping Center site in Clay County’s post-war boom neighborhoods. Frank Morgan’s banking and real-estate empires put the Metro North Shopping Center near the Platte-Clay line when it opened in 1976. Metro North and Antioch dominated shopping in the Northland for decades. Now, they’re both gone. Macy’s (former Jones Store) stands alone on the Metro North pad. Even the venerable Sears at Antioch is gone.

So maybe we should have a round of applause for Kmart keeping its doors open this long. The store had it all at one time: a giant parking lot, a pharmacy, an auto department. Now most of that is gone and only lonely-looking merchandise remained scattered on shelves as Christmas approached.

Kmart was convenient, we can agree on that, just off 72nd Street and I-29. I suppose that prompted my first visits. And there comes the time when you need an oddity that only stores that have a lot of stuff carry, like the folding chairs in my closet.

Life also prompts needs. My first child was born a few weeks early. On day two, I was sent home from the hospital to feed the pets and instructed to buy diapers. I stopped at Kmart. I’d never been in that part of the store before. So strange and exotic the baby corner seemed. They had what I needed.

Another child arrived and a few years rolled by. I discovered that at Christmas Kmart had most of the toys Santa Claus needed with less crowds and chaos. Also, the store proved a dependable place to purchase perennial Christmas gifts for my mom — jigsaw puzzles. The store was also on my way home from work, a major plus for a last-minute shopper.

The picture changed in recent years. Lots of retail, including big chain stores in strip shopping centers, arrived along the I-29 corridor. Zona Rosa became a major competitor. The Northwest 64th Street corridor west of I-29 has become a major player. Parkville added shops.

Kmart became even easier for a crowd avoider like me to shop in. I frequented the place in those hectic days when Christmas bears down upon a shopping procrastinator. The shopping ease was because the store’s business had fallen off, here and nationally. In October, the parent Sears Holding Co. announced it was filing for bankruptcy and closing many Kmart stores, including the Prairie View site.

I gave the store a final visit last week. Luckily, I got the last jigsaw puzzle in the toy section for 50 percent off. I threw a set of tiny Christmas lights into the cart for good luck.

“I’m sorry the story is closing,” I told the cashier. The young woman just shook her head blankly. She probably fulfilled her holiday shopping online.