Local Kmart included on list of closings

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2002

[02/14/02] Inclusion of Vicksburg’s Kmart on a list of those to be closed as part of a total reorganization is either false or premature, sources said.

The list, obtained by the American City Business Journals and reported in the Detroit Free Press, identifies 291 Kmart stores as being slated for closure in 36 states and Puerto Rico. Kmart, the third-largest discount retailer in the country, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January.

Kmart has denied the accuracy of the list, calling it “baseless, speculative and reckless.”

“There is no truth to that,” said Andrew Gibbs, manager of the Vicksburg store, No. 3900, located on Pemberton Boulevard. “This store has done tremendous business in the last year. We hear that from associates and customers every day.”

The Vicksburg Kmart, which opened in July 1991, employs about 70 people.

Calls to the company’s corporate office were not returned, although a recording on the media relations line said the company “did not have any information related to individual store closings and, until a announcement is made, all stores are open for business.”

The company operates more than 2,100 stores nationwide.

Six Mississippi stores are included on the disputed list. In addition to Vicksburg, they are in Gautier, Pascagoula, Biloxi, Hattiesburg and Laurel.

A formal announcement of store closings is expected March 20 when company representatives appear at a bankruptcy hearing. Gibbs said he expects news before then.

The company has said it is making significant progress on reorganization efforts and expects to return to financial health by July 2003.

The city helped bring Kmart to Vicksburg by floating a $275,000 bond and using tax increment financing to help with the infrastructure development around the store.

In 1999, Kmart was transformed into a supermarket, and the name changed to Big Kmart in an effort to boost sales.

The 87,000 square-foot store’s biggest competitor is Wal-Mart, which has a 202,000 square-foot SuperCenter on U.S. 61 South.