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Published Sat, Nov 17, 2012 08:00 PM
Modified Sat, Nov 17, 2012 06:52 PM

Kmart closing West Smithfield store

- dquizon@newsobserver.com
The Kmart on Market Street will close in late January after 34 years in Smithfield.
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- dquizon@newsobserver.com

The Kmart store on Market Street in West Smithfield is closing after 34 years.

The store began advertising the closing earlier this month, with roadside signs directing traffic to a going-out-of-business sale. It will close for good in late January.

The store’s 59 employees, mostly part-time workers, are eligible for severance pay, said Sears spokesman Chris Bratwaithe. (Sears owns the Kmart brand.)

The company has encouraged the employees to apply for open positions at other Kmart and Sears stores, Bratwaithe said. “These decisions are never easy, because Kmart appreciates being a member of the community,” he said. “However, we made a business decision to not renew the lease at this location based on its performance.”

The store has operated on the west side of the Neuse River since 1978. That side of town has been most heavily affected by the closing of the bridge over the Neuse River, although Bratwaithe said he didn’t know whether the bridge-reeplacement project had affected sales. He would not say when the company made the decision to close the store. Employees declined to speak publicly about the closing, citing company policy against speaking to the media.

Unlike downtown businesses, the shops and restaurants west of the Neuse cannot rely on foot traffic from county and town goverment. And the detour around the bridge closing has made getting to West Smithfield cumbersome and time-consuming.

Even before the bridge closing, many of the storefronts on West Market Street were vacant. But restaurants did get traffic from office workers who crossed the bridge during their breaks to get lunch at McDonald’s, Heidi’s Two-Wheel Cafe or Mayflower Seafood Restaurant.

Fred and Doris Huebner, who own the McDonald’s in front of Kmart, said the store closing would make it even harder for businesses on the west side of own. Fred said daily business has fallen by 30 percent since the bridge closed. The detour does not pass by either Kmart or McDonald’s, which has reduced traffic in the area to a fraction of what it was. “This has been a long ordeal for us because when the detour signs went up, it hurt our business, and it probably hurt Kmart’s too,” Fred said.

Farhim Pravanta, owner of the Mayflower, said he was shocked when he heard about the closing. “We’re losing business in that part of town, and we’re losing traffic,” he said. “Everybody’s really worried. Hopefully the community will help support these businesses.”

The Huebners expect their sales to go down even more with Kmart’s closing — the store was an attraction that brought residents to West Smithfield, Doris said. Diners can get burgers at other restaurants, but Smithfield had just one Kmart. “There are restaurants all over town,” she said. “Anytime you don’t have anything to draw people to that area, it’s going to affect you.”

Quizon: 919-836-5768

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