HAMILTON — It’s the end of an era, not only in the Bitterroot but in the U.S., as the holding company controlling the remnants of the once-powerful Kmart retail chain announced the Hamilton store will be closing in early March.
It’s been a tenuous few years for the Kmart store in Hamilton, ever since the company that took over from the bankruptcy of Sears and Kmart began liquidating stores across the U-S. Now, the waiting game in Hamilton is over, with employees told the store will close for the final time on March 6.
The Hamilton Kmart is not only the last one in Montana but also one of the last in the country. According to the most recent counts, there are fewer than six stores across the U.S. and the Hamilton closure — which was announced to employees last week — leaves just five stores, with this one being the last in the West.
When the Grass Valley, California store shut down a few weeks ago, it was the last one on the West Coast, part of the gradual liquidation of what once was a formidable chain of 2,500 stores — a retailer that started in Detroit and eventually grew to a powerhouse retailer through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
But the rise of new challengers, like Walmart and Target, created stiff competition and the merger with Sears over a decade ago didn’t stop the bleeding.
News of the closure in Hamilton sparked nostalgic reactions from Kmart fans across the Internet, who’ve been asking for months when the Bitterroot store might close. In fact, this store, in particular, is a fan favorite because it’s the last one with the iconic “legacy” sign that was such a familiar sight to shoppers that grew up with affordable Subway sandwiches and “blue light specials.”
For the Bitterroot, it’s also an interesting retail development, since Kmart was the only store of its type without a run to Missoula. It’s far too soon to know whether another “big box” operator might come in to take its place.