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Published: Wednesday, 1/15/2003

Customers blue about closings

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Martha Ellcessor of Forest, Ohio, says she shops at Findlay's Kmart, but she goes elsewhere if she can find a better deal. Martha Ellcessor of Forest, Ohio, says she shops at Findlay's Kmart, but she goes elsewhere if she can find a better deal.
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FINDLAY - If Kmart had offered a ``blue light special'' on boxes of tissues here yesterday sales would have gone through the roof.

Sad faces and hard sentiments filled the aisles at Kmart's store in the Findlay Village Shopping Center after the Troy, Mich., retailer announced yesterday that the Findlay store and one in Sandusky were among the 326 stores it plans to close nationwide in 60 to 70 days.

``All we've done is a lot of crying here today,'' said a glum-looking woman, who declined to give her name but identified herself as a department manager in the Findlay store. ``It's like our family. This was a big surprise to me.''

Another distraught employee, who also refused to give her name, told The Blade the decision was a great shock, ``but I'm not going to knock Kmart. I never will.''

Metro Toledo, meanwhile, dodged a bullet for the second year in a row. None of the six stores in the greater Toledo area was on the list of sites to be shuttered. A year ago, when Kmart closed 283 stores, none was in greater Toledo.

The chain said it will close 16 Ohio stores and 13 Michigan stores. Northwest Ohio will retain 12 Kmarts: the Toledo outlets and stores in Lima, Fremont, Fostoria, Defiance, and Bryan. Kmarts in Monroe and Adrian also were spared.

But stores at 1800 Tiffin Ave. in Findlay and in the Sandusky Mall in suburban Sandusky were listed. A year ago, the only area stores to be closed were in Bowling Green and Tiffin. It is not known how many employees are affected, but outlying stores generally have 60 workers each.

The latest nationwide closings will trim about 37,000 jobs as Kmart tries to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Pete Shawaker, a retail specialist at Michael Realty Co., a Toledo commercial real-estate firm, said he was not surprised metro Toledo escaped closures. “Toledo is so close to the headquarters in Troy that I know if they give up on Toledo, it's going to be the end of the firm," Mr. Shawaker said.

Jerry Baumgardner, a Perkins Township trustee where the Sandusky area store is located, said he was surprised by the closing.

“There's going to be a lot of jobs lost, and it's going to be a real inconvenience for the residents of Perkins Township who shop at Kmart,” Mr. Baumgardner said. “We're sorry to see them go.”

While Blade calls to Kmart in Bryan were greeted by a cheery operator who knew her store was to stay open, the mood was decidedly downcast in the Findlay store, customers said.

``This is disappointing, but I'm not surprised,” said Bob Wilson of Findlay, as he and his wife exited the store with their purchases.

``Just look at their stock and everything. They've been sinking, and they're not alone. I can foresee a lot of other stores going the way of Kmart.''

The couple said they like shopping at Kmart because it is close to home but admitted they also shop at Meijer, Wal-Mart, and other stores that have what they want on sale. Last year, Wal-Mart opened a 200,000-square foot Supercenter just east of Findlay's Kmart.

Likewise, Findlay resident Julie Munn, who has been a Kmart shopper for at least 15 years, said she shops around for price. ``I shop here at least once a week,'' she said. ``But I do shop the other stores. There is no loyalty anymore. Whoever may have the lowest price, that's where I go.''

Martha Ellcessor, who resides in the Hardin County village of Forest, drives 10 miles to shop in Findlay.

``I come over to this Kmart if I have to go to Findlay ... but you know, there are just so many more choices now. You go where the bargains are,'' she said.

``But, this is a shame,'' Ms. Ellcessor said. ``There's people who have worked here at this store for 25 years.”

The Findlay store likely won't be vacant long, said Doug Peters, president and chief executive of the Findlay-Hancock County Chamber of Commerce. Several retailers are scouting for sites in Findlay, and the space could be split up for smaller stores, he said.

Blade business writers Julie M. McKinnon and Mary-Beth McLaughlin contributed to this report.



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