Kmart is a national retail chain that was prosperous for years but has been on the decline since 2002, culminating in it's second bankruptcy in 2018. Following the closure of the Super Kmart at 21111 Van Born Road in Taylor in mid-September 2016, the chain's 54-year Downriver history has come to a close. This article describes those 54 years in memory.
Many of us remember the stores for their famed longtime Blue Light Specials, cafeterias, Icee drinks, earthtone walls and especially the music that was played during our visits. There were a total of eight Kmarts Downriver during this period.
Store 7272, Flat Rock: Telegraph Road in the Flat Rock Shopping Center
Opened on November 1, 1979, this was the only Downriver Kmart that anchored a strip mall (despite the sign at the original Southgate store proclaiming it as a "plaza," the only attached storefront was a supermarket, read further below), as the Flat Rock store was attached to a Kroger "superstore"-type outlet, a Perry Drugs and several smaller tenants. Following a 1984 strike, the Kroger became various other supermarkets before closing about 2000 and the Perry Drugs was one of the remaining ones that became a Rite Aid in 1995, only to move to Downtown Flat Rock in 1999. This Kmart, though, lasted until the retailer's first major bankruptcy in 2003 (which resulted in a subsequent takeover by Sears the following year) resulted in a wave of closures nationwide, this store was among them. Since then, the site had been the location of various proposals for reuse, including at one point a Meijer store, which ultimately ended up going up across Telegraph and Vreeland Road instead. The smaller storefronts are now occupied again after a few years of complete vacancy of the entire complex, though plans for the remaining storefronts are still up in the air.
Store 4949, Lincoln Park: 3710 Dix Highway
In 1991, just a year after a rebranding effort which included eliminating the longtime red-and-turquoise logo used since the chain's 1962 formation, the first Super Kmart opened in Medina, Ohio, which combined a full-line supermarket with the regular Kmart with barrier-free connections, a concept pioneered by Meijer themselves 29 years prior. However, this wasn't Kmart's first foray into the grocery business, many of their 1960s stores included attached-and much smaller-Kmart Foods supermarkets, but were phased out in the 1970's. Lincoln Park was selected as the site of Downriver's first Super Kmart, to be built at Dix and Emmons Boulevard-which required removing three sets of the group of radio towers at that site (the remaining ones are used today to transmit WLQV AM 1500).
The Lincoln Park Super Kmart opened for business on October 17, 1994 (using the SK 2R prototype design) and did reasonably well, but may have been the victim of market saturation. It was also among the wave of stores shuttered after the 2003 bankruptcy. It would reopen the following year as-ironically-the Lincoln Park Meijer, which is still open today and is among the highest-grossing Meijer stores in Michigan.
Store 4238, Melvindale: 25201 Outer Drive
Opening for business on October 10, 1968 (see Detroit Free Press ad), this store was located at the corner of Rialto Street just west of the newly-opened Interstate 75 freeway. A Wrigley supermarket was attached to the store's east end. This space largely remained vacant after Wrigley went out of business in 1977.
This Kmart closed on the same day as the original Southgate Kmart (see below) January 10, 1995; and like the Southgate store was replaced by the Lincoln Park Super Kmart (see above). It wasn't abandoned for long, however, a short time later, it was repurposed into a temporary location for the Detroit St. Vincent DePaul store after a disastrous fire at it's original location on Fort Street in southwest Detroit. After a new building was ready, St. Vincent DePaul would move on.
Finally in January 2007, Faith Christian Academy took over the building, where they remain to this day. The exterior was completely modernized for their purposes. It was the church's third location since its 1937 formation and, as their website points out, both relocations have been no more than two blocks apart on Outer Drive.
Store 4021, Southgate Location #1: 13311 Eureka Road
Downriver's first Kmart (store 4021) was located at 13311 Eureka Road, opening their doors at 10 AM on November 26, 1962. The building was 131,767 square feet and attached to the building's west side was a Kmart Foods grocery store. It was among the very few Kmart outlets to contain a second story but it was only the first and the last Kmart with a full-sized furniture department. The initial store manager was John E. Balauger. Following the dissolving of Kmart Foods, the supermarket storefront reopened as a Farmer Jack, remaining until 1993 when its final Southgate location (out of three total) would be built next to Service Merchandise at the Southgate Shopping Center. Kmart, however, stayed until it announced it's impending closure late in 1994 and just before the 1994 Christmas shopping season began a storewide, 75% off clearance sale. This store ultimately closed on January 10, 1995; replaced by the Lincoln Park Super Kmart (see above). The former Kmart Foods spot became Kroger in 2000, it's space also occupied part of the former Kmart itself, the remainder of which later had a short-lived stint as Office Depot before becoming Dunham's Sports in August 2004. In September 2017, Kroger would relocate to Southgate's former second Kmart (see below).
Store 4995, Southgate Location #2: 16705 Fort Street
After having been mothballed for 13 years, the old E.J. Korvette complex at Fort Street and Pennsylvania Road had finally been razed in 1993. The now-empty lot lingered until November 18, 1998, when Kmart returned to Southgate after a nearly-four-year absence by opening the doors to a new Super Kmart, the second Downriver, at this address. Using the SK 11R prototype design, it boasted one of the most modern climate control systems in any Downriver building recently constructed.
This Kmart remained in business for over 15 years until company contraction as well as competition from the Southgate Meijer directly across Fort Street (which actually predated this Kmart by four years, opening on August 30, 1994) resulted in it's closure on October 12, 2014, following a storewide liquidation that began on July 27 of that year. In September 2016, the city of Southgate announced that it would be redeveloped into a new Kroger Marketplace, replacing the Kroger at, ironically, the original Kmart site (above). Opening in September 2017, this Kroger Marketplace is now Kroger's largest store in Michigan.
Store 4059, Taylor Location #1: 20111 Van Born Road
Following the closures of the Southgate Super Kmart (see above) and Woodhaven Kmart (see below), the Kmart on Van Born Road along the northern Taylor city limits became Downriver's final remaining Kmart until it's closure announcement came in May 2016. Originally slated to close in November 2016, it wounded up closing two months early.
This was Downriver's second Kmart, opening on March 5, 1964; therefore, it has lasted the longest of Kmart's eight total Downriver stores at the exact same address. It would also be the last Downriver Kmart to feature the original red-and-turquoise logo and unremodeled interior, until it was converted into Downriver's third Super Kmart in 1999, reopening as such on October 6 of that year. Like many 1960s Kmarts, it originally had an attached Kmart Foods, though the fate of that is unknown.
Store 4393, Taylor Location #2: 11100 Telegraph Road
Out of Kmart's eight eventual total Downriver stores, this location is perhaps the least known and most difficult to remember. We do know, however, that it opened on August 12, 1971, and that it was also among the many nationwide Kmart stores that shut their doors permanently in 2003 after the bankruptcy. It was demolished a short time later to make room for the current tenant, Home Depot.
When Woodhaven was incorporated as a city in 1965, it only had a population of 3,000. By the end of the decade, with the Woodhaven Mobil Refinery and Ford Woodhaven Stamping Plant in full operation, and with neighborhoods under development on the city's west end, there was a need for retail stores within the fast-growing city. A Central Business District was established at Allen Road and West Road and was in full swing with the opening of this Kmart on March 11, 1971. This would be the largest overall structure the company had built up to that point. It was also the second Downriver Kmart to feature an attached Wrigley supermarket on the building's east end. After Wrigley went out of business in 1977, the dividing wall was simply knocked down to provide additional selling space. This was also the only Kmart Downriver with a lumber department, located at the back of the building and identified by an orange-tiled floor leading to it.
For nineteen years, this Kmart faced no sizeable competition. This would change with the opening of the Woodhaven Meijer across Allen Road on September 25, 1990. On October 5, 1994, a Kroger-anchored strip mall across West Road added a new Target anchor space, adding insult to injury. To top it all off, after the Mobil refinery was demolished in the 1990s, the land was used to build a new Walmart-anchored strip mall kitty-corner across Allen Road. Now squeezed for business, the writing was on the wall for this location, which closed forever on January 23, 2013.
The entire parcel, including outbuildings, began complete redesign and reconstruction work in late 2014, despite claims the intersection was already saturated with business traffic. This has produced a new Ashley Home Store, among other tenants.