‘Was Astor Place Kmart Haunted?’ and Other Thoughts on Its Closing


Kmart opened its doors in 1996 at 770 Broadway, a commercial landmark where the West Village meets the East. Anyone who takes the 6 to Astor Place may remember the big red “K” visible from the Metro platform. hunt for discounts.

For those looking for Triple Hanes T-Shirts or a clean city bathroom, the store can provide an unforgettable and sometimes memorable shopping experience.

At least, that was the case for everyone who shared their online praise for the store, which closed abruptly on July 11.

On Twitter, author Jason Diamond Astor Place announced he was going to Kmart As “one of the weirdest shopping experiences for reasons I’ve never fully understood”.

“I’ve never been to Astor Place Kmart because I was sure it was haunted.” tweeted out Malika Hunasikatti is a 32-year-old policy expert.

Chris Crowley, author of New York Magazine’s Vulture, Wrote “It always felt like the perfect place for a shopping scene gone wrong in a zombie apocalypse movie.”

The store’s closing announcement was silent and delivered in printouts taped to clothes racks and windows. There’s been a buzz for a while: Three years ago, the store shrunk from three to two times after Vornado Realty Trust bought the lease. Previously, tech and media giants such as AOL and Facebook had opened shops in the building.

Mark Peikert, an editor who moved from Texas to New York 20 years ago, worked in one of the offices above Kmart for several years. “Everything felt strange and vaguely frightening,” Mr Peikert, 37, said of the store over the phone. “O Kmart from ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ I mentioned it as part of the episode, but I really felt like someone from the Midnight Society was telling a crazy story about consumerism.”

Big-box stores are designed to increase the likelihood that people will spend money, taking into account all kinds of psychological and biological factors. Paco Underhill, author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping,” cited dominance as an example.

“Ninety percent of us are right-handed, and so it’s easier to organize a store with a counter-clockwise circulation model because we push a car with our left hand and pick things up with our right hand,” Mr. Underhill said. He is also the founder and CEO of Envirosell, a behavioral research and consulting firm that counted Kmart among its clients in the late 1980s.

In recent years, Astor Place Kmart has boldly challenged all consumer psychology logic: The shop’s aisles have been rearranged so frequently that it seemed like an ongoing joke.

In any given month, towels may be in the seasonal section, which is usually, but not always, in the basement, or they may be in household items on the ground floor, or they may be nowhere. This seasonal division (wherever found) was certainly holding seasonal goods, but no one promised to do so in a reasonable way.

“I went looking for something for Halloween in October and there was just a big St. Patrick’s Day show,” said Valerie Kamen, a 29-year-old East Village screenwriter.

Maybe she should have visited Christmas for her Halloween items. “I bought a post-Halloween doormat,” 33-year-old actor and writer Max Henry said when asked about his most memorable purchase from the store, where a woman once said she yelled at him for a laugh. “It was long after Halloween, completely off-season.”

In addition to showcasing a mind-blowing assortment, Kmart at 770 Broadway has aligned itself with a mix of celebrities and entertainment franchises in the ’90s and early days.

There was a time in 1997 when U2 played in the lingerie section of the store. According to an article in the Daily News, FebruaryBono sat on a reporter’s lap and handed out Kmart products (a detail this reporter couldn’t confirm).

A year later, Kmart full page ad on the same broadcast, to warn the city that both in Manhattan will soon begin selling the double VHS “Titanic” set. The smack in the middle of the ad is a cutesy “Titanic Truth” that claims that Kmart in Astor Place was the site of the first Titanic emergency call, when David Sarnoff, future president of RCA, served as the wireless operator. According to biographer Kenneth Bilby, it’s an exaggerated rumor at best, started by Mr. Sarnoff’s cousin.

Among others whose looks draw fans to the store include: Garth Brooks, JoJo, Martha Stewart, harun carter and Sofia Vergara.

Screenwriter Ms. Kamen said that for two years in the 2010s, the only song you could hear over the speakers in the kids’ section was “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys. “I don’t know if they have any special licensing stuff,” he said. “It was uninterrupted from 2012 to 2013. A corner of the store.” Why is that?

Now, these product endorsements and cursed shopping trips are left with naked mannequins, different-height ladders, and abandoned red shopping carts. That shouldn’t be all that surprising: Kmart merged with Sears in 2005. Sears in 2018 filed for bankruptcy. The owner of the stores under both names is now Transformco. Closed nearly 100 locations between December 2019 and February 2020. List of closed showcases just grew up since. (Transformco did not respond to a request for comment.)

Still, knowing that something is nearing its end doesn’t make that prospect any less upsetting, and this Kmart in particular felt different. Sometimes it looked as if it was modeled after the dreary memories of a store someone had just dreamed of, where the details change and change, and it doesn’t come to your attention that something isn’t quite right about it until you arrive. I’m trying to make sense of it out loud.

Yes, it was a Kmart, but it was dustier than anything you’d ever seen and weirder than you might expect. It wasn’t necessarily reliable, but it was trusted. If you got on the 6 (perhaps to work at 770 Broadway like I once did), you can walk from the train to the underground entrance of the store like a vampire escaping the sun. And even if you never set foot inside, it was fixed in an ever-changing plaza—a store that still exists after all.


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