shopper leaves Kmart in Oconomowoc on Saturday. The
store is having a closing sale,
offering 20 to 60 percent off items.
you’ve kept a watchful eye on retail-related headlines
this past year, the headlines can seem ominous —
particularly for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.
growing list of shuttering stores has even brought a
phrase into our cultural vernacular: the retail
year claimed the lives of two big-box chains — Toys R Us
and Bon Stores Inc., parent company of Boston Store —
each one-time goliaths of the industry. There have been
talks of trying to resuscitate both storied brands, but
firm plans have yet to crystallize.
We’re only a month into 2019, and there has been plenty
of buzz about the fate of a number of other regional and
national retailers that could leave more hollowed-out,
emptied storefronts as the year continues to unfold.
week, the ultimate fate of deeply-rooted department
store chains Sears and Kmart could be decided in
bankruptcy court as a judge decides if former Sears
Holdings Corp. CEO Eddie Lampert’s bid to continue
operating 425 stores across the U.S. is sufficient.
Regardless of what happens in bankruptcy court, the
judge’s decision will have no further impact on our
immediate area. The last full-line Sears store closed at
Brookfield Square nearly a year ago; a lone store in
Madison is the last store standing in this state.
Journalist and retail
history enthusiast recently purchased a Kmart blue light
pole as the Cudahy store was closing.
Dave Fidlin/Special to
same goes for Kmart — where the blue light special
became a part of our cultural lexicon. The one-time
discount behemoth, which was the nation’s No. 2 retailer
(behind only Sears) throughout the 1970s and 1980s,
closed its longtime Cudahy store Jan. 27, and the
Oconomowoc location is set to close its doors next
month. Five locations remain in scattered areas of the
then there’s Shopko — which, like Kmart, got its start
in 1962 (alongside heavyweights Target and Walmart). The
financial cracks of this Green Bay-headquartered chain
began showing late last year and reached a breaking
point last month as the company filed for bankruptcy,
hopeful to reorganize around a stronger base of stores.
Whatever becomes of Shopko, its absence also will be
felt locally. Stores in Grafton, Sussex and West Bend
are in the process of winding down operations and will
be closing in the months ahead.
Other retailers with smaller footprints are also facing
possible extinction or a reduced footprint. This is
especially true of mall-based retailers.
Among the examples are women’s clothier Charlotte Russe,
which announced Monday it is filing for bankruptcy,
shuttering nearly 100 stores, including ones at
Brookfield Square and in the Bayshore Town Center in
month, children’s clothier Gymboree announced plans to
close all of its namesake stores, leaving yet another
vacancy within Brookfield Square and Southridge Mall in
Greendale. There’s also reports of specialty retailer
Things Remembered closing stores as it struggles to keep
pace with changes in the marketplace.
Dave Fidlin/Special to
of this news — especially the post mortems — is enough
to make the 1980s-era Toys R Us kid embedded within me
cry in the name of nostalgia.
what gives? Are we entering an age where online shopping
has toppled traditional brick-and-mortar retail? Does
Amazon receive all of the credit for this recent series
of store closures?
While Amazon has made inroads in a number of areas —
retail being just one of them — the company still
commands a relatively small piece of the overall retail
pie. According to analytics provider One Click Retail,
Amazon holds about 4 percent of the U.S. retail sales
and 44 percent of all online activity.
Statista, another analytics firm, estimates 11.1 percent
of this year’s retail activity in the U.S. will take
Amazon and the Internet are playing a role in the
erosion of the brick and mortar landscape, but they
haven’t toppled it.
reality, many of today’s struggling retailers face
several characteristics. In some instances, leadership
has been credited with not evolving with changing
other cases, private equity has been criticized for not
putting enough investment into store operations — or
placing a heavy debt-load onto the retailer’s capital
structure. This scenario was especially true of Toys R
Us, which was lumbering with $5 billion in debt when it
filed for bankruptcy in fall 2017.
remain bullish on the future of brick-and-mortar retail,
and there is plenty of reason to have optimism as we
scan the area.
of Brookfield’s 2year-old mixed-use development The
Corners continues to grow with an ongoing roster of new
tenants, while West Bend’s Main Street thoroughfare has
grown, netting such retailers as Meijer. And Grafton’s
Interstate 43 corridor has thrived in the past
decade-plus after village leaders shifted their focus on
where the community’s main commercial hub should be
times they might be a-changing, but that doesn’t mean we
will stop stepping foot into retail stores anytime soon.
(Dave Fidlin is a freelance journalist
and a retail history enthusiast. He is the proud owner
of a flashing Kmart blue light, which he purchased
during a fixture sale before the Cudahy store closed.)