URBANA - On her way out of the Urbana Big K store Tuesday, longtime Kmart shopper Anne Huff of Urbana says she's sorry to hear its days are numbered.
"It's sad, because Urbana is dying down," she said.
Spared just 10 months ago from an earlier round of 284 Kmart store closings, the Urbana Big K found itself on Tuesday's list of 326 more underperforming stores the ailing retailer plans to close as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy objectives.
The 66 full-time and part-time employees at the Urbana Big K got the word Tuesday, but the store's managers declined to discuss any of the details. City officials said the store would close at the end of March.
The store's front-end supervisor, Matt Hinkle, a part-time employee and University of Illinois senior, said he and his fellow employees weren't given a closing date.
Nor were they entirely surprised about the closing.
"We knew it was a possibility," he said.
Kmart announced the bankruptcy court is expected to approve its store closing plan Jan. 28, and that clearance sales will start soon after. Affected employees will receive supplemental separation pay, extended benefits and job placement services, the company said.
The Urbana store, one of nine in Illinois set to close, has had a longtime loyal customer following, and it even was the subject of petition drives to keep it open.
Huff said she has been shopping at the Urbana Big K for about 12 years, and is at the store two or three times a week.
Another shopper at the store Tuesday afternoon, Kathy Mandela of Urbana, recalls signing something at the store last summer asking the company to keep it open and was disappointed that Kmart didn't listen.
Mandela said she prefers the Urbana Big K to the larger Kmart Super Center in Champaign, and thinks the Urbana store has better prices and a better assortment of merchandise.
"I come in here twice a week. It's close to my house," she said. "I'd go to Meijer before I'd go to the Super Kmart."
Doris Tucker of St. Joseph said she has been going to the Urbana Kmart since it opened.
"I think it's a good service to this community," she said.
Still another shopper on Tuesday, Shirley Jones of Philo, said she had just left the Champaign Kmart and driven to the Urbana Big K to get an item the Champaign store didn't have. She wasn't happy to hear the Urbana store will close.
"I think that's too bad - it's sad," she said. "They worked so hard here to keep up with the changes."
Still, Jones added, she knows her own habit of shopping at a lot of discounters is shared by many, and that probably has contributed to the Big K's loss of business.
The pending closing of the store means the city's tight budget situation is going to get worse in coming months. The southeast Urbana store generates in the neighborhood of $200,000 annually in sales taxes for the city, and those dollars will be sorely missed by the city after the store closes at the end of March, Urbana Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Walden said.
"I've had better days," he said, adding he learned of the closing Tuesday morning.
Walden said the city has seen its state income tax receipts decline by $430,000 in the past two years, with sales tax growth flat. Now, the city is facing the loss of Kmart's sales tax. And there's the much-speculated-upon possibility the state might reduce the percentage of state income tax shared with local governments from one-tenth to one-eleventh.
"We're watching the state carefully," Walden said. "We're worried they'll balance the state budget on the backs of local government."
Walden said city officials have twice before mounted petition drives to persuade Kmart officials to keep the Urbana store open. He said the city was encouraged in recent months when Kmart spent thousands of dollars replacing the roof at the Urbana store, installing a new sign, replacing doors and adding new cash registers.
"We were hopeful they would escape the ax, but they didn't," Walden said. "They were making money. They were doing pretty well."
The pending closure will leave southeast Urbana without a discount or variety store - a void Walden said the city will work to fill.
"I'm hopeful the marketplace will fill that void," he said. "But there hasn't been a lot of activity anywhere. It might take a while."
Walden recently sent a memo to the city council indicating he had directed city departments to trim spending this fiscal year, which ends June 30, by 1 percent or 2 percent.
In that memo, Walden warned that the fiscal 2003-04 budget could see the city end up with a balanced budget, compared to previous years where the city was able to bank substantial surpluses, which have been used to pay for major capital projects.
Surplus funds were $1.2 million in fiscal 2001 and $700,000 last fiscal year.
Walden said the city undoubtedly will have to consider spending cuts and possibly tax increases in coming months.
"It's inevitable we'll be looking at ways to trim our costs," he said. "And if there are ways we can enhance revenues without hurting our economy as a whole, we'll probably look at that as well."
Danville shoppers glad their Kmart staying
DANVILLE - Customers shopping at Danville's Kmart on Tuesday evening were thankful that their area store survived the newly announced list of closings.
Robert Brown of Danville, who shops at the Kmart at 2721 N. Vermilion St. almost every other day, enjoys the discount store for its costs and convenience.
"I like it because I live only a couple blocks away," said Brown, who was buying a carton of eggs with his stepson, Jazhon Parker.
"I usually walk to get here and it's closer than County Market. The prices are a lot more reasonable whenever I come here."
Markon Le thinks of Kmart when he needs to buy whatever necessity pops into his head. He mostly spent Tuesday looking for reading glasses, but has also purchased tools to fix his car. Le also credits savings for his return trips. "Overall, the prices are pretty good," he said. The store, which employs about 100 workers, has been a staple in the community since 1963.
While the Danville Kmart is still open, more than 300 other underperforming Kmart stores nationwide were not so lucky, including stores Chicago, Urbana, Ottawa, Springfield and three in Indianapolis.
The Danville Kmart reported success during its holiday sales with a surge around Thanksgiving before tapering off in December.
As a person who shops at the store once a week, Tina Bear said it's her favorite source for difficult-to-find items.
She spent the past two days looking for a canister of the original Play-Doh clay and only found it at Kmart.
"They carry a lot of different things that I can't find in other places," said Bear, who has bought toys, clothes, jewelry and groceries in the past. "I can't believe so many of those stores are closing."
While perusing the book section, Pamela Hall said she always had confidence that the area store wasn't going anywhere.
Many were not only glad for the discount chain, but also for their hometown, that Kmart was staying put.
"It's a good thing, especially for Danville, because it gives people more options to choose from," Le said.