Kmart in Auburn is closing soon. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — After surviving round after round of closures, the blue lights are going out on Center Street.

An Auburn Kmart employee confirmed Tuesday that the store is closing. The Kmart in Augusta also is closing.

“We are going to start our liquidation sale in a couple of weeks,” the Auburn employee said, estimating the store would shut its doors by mid-December or sooner.

The Auburn Kmart opened on Center Street in 1972 employing 150 people, according to Sun Journal archives.

These two stores were the last Kmarts left in Maine and are among the nearly 100 closures unofficially announced this week.

“After careful review, we have made the difficult but necessary decision to close the Kmart stores in Auburn and Augusta, Maine,” a corporate spokesman at TransformCo. said via email Tuesday afternoon. “Liquidation sales are expected to begin in mid-September and the stores are planned to close by mid-December. We encourage customers to continue shopping on Kmart.com for all their product needs.”

The Maine Department of Labor reached out to the Auburn and Augusta stores Tuesday morning offering Rapid Response services, according to a spokeswoman.

Rapid Response provides information about health insurance options and re-employment and answers questions about unemployment benefits. The Department of Labor can offer advice and help to both employers and employees with information about their rights, responsibilities and obligations during a closure or downsizing.

The news comes as retail outlets are getting ready for the winter holiday push, and that offers some good news, said Keith Luke, deputy director of development services for the city of Augusta.

“While we’re always concerned about displacement of employees, many of them longtime employees, the good news is that the unemployment rate in central Maine is low,” Luke said.

Maine’s unemployment rate in July was at a historically low 3%, compared to a national rate of 3.7%.
The holiday season is approaching and retail outlets in Augusta’s more popular centers such as the Marketplace and Augusta Crossing are all looking for the type of employees that Kmart is letting go, Luke said.

Maine is one of 30 states identified in this round of closures that will lose either a Kmart or a Sears.
Department of Labor spokeswoman Jessica Picard said neither store manager had yet responded to the state’s offer. An estimated number of people working at the two locations wasn’t available.

Kmart had been owned by Sears Holdings, which has been struggling in recent years to compete in a retail environment that is undergoing unprecedented changes and has announced store closures by the dozens in successive waves in recent years.

At its peak, Kmart had 4,000 stores nationwide about a decade ago, a number that’s since torpedoed to well below 1,000. Forbes reported Tuesday that the company was operating around 400 stores nationwide a few months ago even before the recent announced closures, meaning the store count could be “as low as 300 including both Sears and Kmart locations,” representing “less than a tenth of the store count that existed when Lampert bought Sears and Kmart in the early 2000s.”

In October 2018, Sears Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing its massive debt load and losses.

Kennebec Journal reporter Jessica Lowell contributed to this report.

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