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Camden Kmart to close this summer
Camdens Kmart will close by the end of July, the only Kmart in South Carolina among the 68 stores nationwide its parent company, Sears Holding, is closing. A liquidation sale will begin May 12. Kmart opened in Camden in the early 1990s on West DeKalb Street on property which has never been annexed into the city of Camden. - photo by Martin L. Cahn

Sears Holding will close its Kmart store on West DeKalb Street in Camden in late July. Eligible employees will receive severance pay and have the opportunity to apply for open positions at other area Kmart and Sears stores, according to a press release issued Thursday.

“We are committed to treating these associates with respect and compassion during this process,” Sears Holdings Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Edward S. Lampert said in the press release

The Camden Kmart is among 68 Kmart and 10 Sears stores the company is closing as part of Sears Holdings’ decision to “accelerate its transformation and its return to profitability.”

Camden Mayor Tony Scully said he was surprised and disappointed to hear the Camden Kmart is closing.

“Kmart has a fine staff, good merchandise, a wonderful pharmacy and great sales,” Scully said in an email. “I have routinely asserted that our merchants are our risk takers, often enough with great imagination and great optimism. They drive the city forward and deserved our respect and our support. Many people in the so-called middle class do have the disposable income they had in the past; that affects the retail market.”

Scully went on to say voters need to elect political leaders who understand the problems not only of the struggling middle class but of business owners, especially small business owners.

“Kmart is in another category,” he conceded, “but it’s all the same problem and the same challenge. We will miss our Kmart.”

Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns also commented on the closing.

“Kershaw County is the great place for business, (but) we regret the impending loss of Kmart and the market forces in that very competitive sector that stand to displace our workforce,” Burns said. “Yet, new jobs are coming every week to the county. So, we are working with owners and new industry to help place those wonderful employees impacted. Notably, we have recently added over 500 new job opportunities in Kershaw County with more to come.”

Sears Holdings announced in February it would do so through the closing of unprofitable stores. According to the press release, Thursday’s announcement follows a comprehensive evaluation of the company’s portfolio which took into account both historical and recent store performance along with the timing of lease expirations. All of the Sears stores and nearly all the Kmart stores will close in late July; two Super Kmart stores, in Lorain, Ohio, and Taylor, Mich., will close in mid-September, the company said.

“The decision to close stores is a difficult, but necessary step as we take aggressive actions to strengthen our company, fund our transformation and restore Sears Holdings to profitability,” Lampert said. “We’re focusing on our best members, our best categories and our best stores as we work to accelerate our transformation.”

According to the press release, Sears Holdings expects the store closures to generate a “meaning level of cash” from the liquidation of store inventory and from the sale or sublease of some of the related real estate. Kmart opened in Camden in the early 1990s. It sits on land currently owned by Wateree Associates LLC through Thompson & Company Inc. which is not inside the Camden city limits despite being located on West DeKalb Street.

Together with more than $1.2 billion in debt financing Sears Holdings announced earlier this month to provide the capital needed to transform itself and meet financial obligations, the company said it believes it has taken important steps toward restoring profitability in 2016.

“Sears Holdings will continue to transform as the role of the store evolves to fit the way that members want to shop,” Lambert said. “Through our continued investments in integrated retail (merging sales from online, mobile and brick-and-mortar stores), our stores are a critical component of our strategy as we provide our members with industry-leading innovations such as ‘Meet with an Expert,’ in-vehicle pickup and ‘Exchange in Five.’”

Camden’s Kmart is the only store on the list of closures in South Carolina. The nearest stores in the Midlands are located in Lexington, Sumter and West Columbia. Sears Holdings’ press release said the stores closing in July, including Camden’s, will start their liquidation sales on May 12.