Today I watched Company Man’s Kmart video and it brought back all the horrible memories of a store that was once nice. In my part of Tampa, there wasn’t a Kmart for a long time. You’d have to drive down to Dale Mabry and Fletcher, or to the sketchy part of Busch Blvd., or the even sketchier part of Waters and Florida Avenue. In the late ’80s a new shopping center was built in Lutz, just North of the county line and there was going to be a Kmart and a new Publix.
I remember a “what I did over the Summer” project we did in elementary school, and one of my entries was “being excited for the new Kmart.” This was when Lutz was still very, very small, and all the major shopping centers were 10-15 miles South in Tampa.
In the very beginning, the Kmart at SR 54 and Collier Parkway was nice. Kmarts more or less all looked the same: huge ceiling spaces, yellowish white florescent lighting, and a lot of merchandise. The toy aisles typically had a massive selection during the action figure hayday of the early-to-mid 1990s, but that was no different than Walmart or Target. At this time, Kmart was slightly more upscale than Walmart, but still below Target as far as story layout, merchandise, and cleanliness. It was around the later part of the ’90s when things started to become questionable for the Kmart brand.
My parents stopped going there around the time I go into junior high. On a couple occasions it was apparent that the store was being mismanaged. There were multiple aisles that were wrecked on each visit. Two of the toy aisles were trashed, with open merchandise all over the place. The electronics department had more and more stuff on lockdown, and even my teenage brain caught on to the fact that Kmart rarely carried good name brand merch, rather a lot of questionable knock-offs.
Freezers would be routinely broken, but food was not moved out of them. I remember opening an ice cream case, noticed it wasn’t cold and saw many of the cartons were sagging. There was also a strange smell, so these dairy goods had probably been at room temperature for a good day or two.
Eventually going into my late teens, I was looking for a place to work that was really close to my home. Partially so I wouldn’t have to wake up super early to drive into Tampa, and because my Ford Probe wasn’t exactly reliable.
I worked at that same Kmart for roughly three weeks my senior year of high school in ’99. Before that I had worked mainly in construction warehouses and a few months at a Target. Holy fuck did K-Mart suck. No one had a plan for anything. The stock room was a mess. Employees were stealing from electronics all the time. Softlines (clothing) was always fucked at the end of the day and employee morale was so low that no one tried.
I did my best since working in construction kinda reinforces your need to do a good job… but that last day I just did not care. If I ran out of change at my register, the supervisor would take 15-20 minutes to answer my call, all this time a customer is standing right in front of me getting pissed because I have no singles or no quarters to make change. They’d schedule your day so that almost everyone is working a throughout the entire day. 10am to 8pm with a two hour break. Yay!
I was paid higher than a lot of other people who’d been there a while because I had a long work history by my late teens (worked for a contractor who skirted child labor laws at 14). Once some of the other cashiers found out, they targeted me with nasty rumors. All this sort of BS drama for a $6.50/hr job at a failing company. No wonder you’d rarely would see long term employees at that company.