One of my fondest memories from childhood is hopping into my grandfather’s Ford Ranchero and driving with him to Kmart. My grandfather was a man of few words and showed even less affection, but every week we’d saunter in to Kmart, his hand in mine, and we’d search the aisles for bargains. He liked the auto section, and I was a fan of the “blue light specials.” When I was a kid, Kmart had a food court, and my favorite item was a blue raspberry Icee. Even after Shopko moved in next to Kmart, my grandparents and I remained loyal to Kmart. My grandmother was a true bargain shopper; she was known to drive 20 miles to save four cents on apples. But she didn’t deviate from Kmart, referring to other stores like Target and Shopko as “too spendy” and “too fancy.” My fondness for those trips to Kmart with my grandfather extended into my 20s; before my grandfather became bedridden, one of our last outings was to Kmart.
So, for both the bargains and the emotional connection to memories with my grandparents, I have been partial to Kmart over any other “box” store my entire life. I am a frequent visitor to the Kmart in Evergreen, so to learn it will close in December is very sad. I don’t like to alter my buying patterns, and losing a store I have been loyal to for 43 years is consequential to me. I grieve its loss as a community member as well; Kmart was an anchor store in Evergreen, on a high-traffic corner. With the closure of Shopko, and the Hyundai dealership vacancy, the east area of Evergreen is experiencing significant vacancy.
Consumerism patterns are surely to blame for the loss of Shopko and Kmart; repurposing the empty buildings with similar businesses may be difficult. No question, much opportunity exists in Evergreen and investors are taking notice. Vertical construction and remodels abound along the “hip strip,” and the Evergreen community is as engaged in business development as the surrounding incorporated communities. Anyone who encounters the good folks who work for the Water District and the Fire District find out how user-friendly the staff is to work with. The people involved in development of the community can make or break a business investor’s or developer’s experience, and Evergreen’s public servants work very hard to limit unnecessary barriers found in other communities. Coupled with favorable economic conditions, investment in and the redevelopment of Evergreen is virtually assured to occur. So, while I hate to see the blue light specials fade away, I welcome the opportunity for a new business to gain my loyalty for the next 40 years.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.