First, the bitter:
As I approached the store, I stopped suddenly, frightened by the presence of printed signs taped inside the doors. I was still too far to read them, but I feared the worst: that another K-Day had been postponed, or even cancelled. I walked up to the doors, and read the signs:
I had a brief moment of relief, learning that it was about layaways. Then the weight of those last two words started to hit me:
Store closing. Store closing.
Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn.
I really couldn’t comprehend it. Yes, I know K-Mart and its strange bedfellow Sears have really been struggling for quite some time. Yet, with each new round of store closings, this one remained. And it made sense to me: It’s on a very busy corner, and is easily accessible from several directions. Heck, it can even be approached from its back lot, as long as one drove slowly and minded the pallet debris. There’s as Burger King just to its north — good placement for dining and shopping — and a Toys ‘R’ Us a block to its south. It’s across US 19 from a major mall, and the rather well-designed over/underpasses make it easy to go from one to the other from both the north and the south. I’ve done that crossback myself numerous times. And this store was always busy.
Well, I’ll get back to these lamentations later in this post.
And now, the sweet:
(Again, thanks to the Lord that I even learned of this K-Day event, almost literally at the eleventh hour. I discovered later that the e-mail notification for this event went to my spam folder.) I can honestly say that this was the most enjoyable K-Day I’ve attended in some time. And that includes the post-Irma rescheduled K-Day, which itself was very good. Several long-timers such as Steve and Jayce were there, as well as new attendees such as Joel and Louis. There was joking, talking, complaining, reminiscing and sharing all around, almost literally like a Thanksgiving family reunion. If this was indeed my last K-Day, the Lord certainly made it a good one.
One of the things I picked up was the mini-poster for the very attractive ’56 Chevy Convertible mail-in promo. I usually don’t get these, and in fact the last one I got several years ago I ended up giving to a young nephew. But I wanted to get as much out of this K-Day as possible, so I took one. And that Chevy does look sweet. (No, I won’t be ordering one; I stopped that years ago too.)
As I have stated numerous times over the last many K-Day cycles, I had not been moved by the Special Colors or First to Market offerings. Yet when I saw the Baja Hauler on the HW site, I thought I just might enjoy getting that one. And I still can’t figure out why. I usually don’t collect trucks; I don’t collect “baja” versions of vehicles; and I’ve never cared for the “art car” variations. This thing is all three of those, and I still bought it. Heck, I really don’t even like its plastic, chintzy-looking, candy-colored cab and stacks; yet I like the model as a whole. Eh, I guess there’s no accounting for taste. Or buying decisions.
Well, at least it has this super-neato Special Feature:
I wonder what’s inside of it…?
Next, I got this cool ’55 Chevy. Jayce, a few others and myself conjectured that this specific variation may be a left-over from a previous K-Day. Regardless, I find it quite attractive and am glad to have it.
And now for the item that made this K-Day an over-the-top experience:
Yep, the Lord blessed me with a model of the Milano, Quill’s ship from Guardians of the Galaxy. Heck, I forgot that Hot Wheels was even offering it. And on those occasions when I did think of it, I presumed it would be part of an expensive, over-packaged “entertainment” series. To not only get one, but to get it at the mainline 1-dollar price is amazing.
And it was a genuine, if amusing, miracle as to how I found it. By this time all the ticket-holders had gone through their boxes, and so now the boxes were being handed back and forth so everyone could take one more look. I grabbed a box, not even really looking for something, just seeing what I could find. As I sifted through the cars (which are lain on their sides in the box), I saw what I could only described as “spindly things” between two models. I pulled it out, honestly expecting something ridiculous such as Purrfect Speed [Dear Mattel: Please cool it with the silly animal-based Hot Wheels models. Thank you.] This moment is recreated for you here in this totally staged-at-home photograph:
Imagine my shock and surprise when I realized what I had discovered. I quickly showed it to Jayce, evoking a wry smile from him. I was and am incredibly happy.
And then the Lord blessed me a second time:
I can honestly say that if finding the first one was a miracle, finding the second was even more so. This was very near the end of the meeting, and most of the toys had been spread out on the table by the participants. This was primarily to empty out the boxes (which hold about twenty-four cars) so they could carry their own cars in them, but also to make it easier for their fellow attendees to further look over the cars. I was about ready to leave when I decided to just glance over the table one more time. And there it was, sitting out in the open, near the corner of the table, yet completely ignored by everyone else, as if it were invisible.
Now, at this point, I know what’s going on; we’ve done this dance before. Some of you are getting dizzy, starting to feel light-headed, and wondering if you need to hit 911 on your speed-dial. And the answer is yes. Yes, because I will be opening one my Milanos to display it freely. But don’t worry, the other one will be staying pristine and secure in its blister. In fact I’ll be looking for a Kar Keeper to further untouchify it.
After I got back in my truck, I sat there for some time, thinking things over. I realized that once I started leaving, I would literally be driving away from my last K-Day event ever.
My first K-Day was in 2004, which is the year that the Swoopy Do was introduced, and that’s one of the cars I picked up then. One of my favorite K-Days was in 2006. That’s the event during which this older fellow with a baseball cap and pony-tail handed me a flyer for a new collectors’ club. That guy turned out to be Original Ken, and the club was Suncoast Diecasters. I went to that first meeting and had a great time, returning regularly (for the most part) ever since. Within about a year I became the club’s Webmaster and Photographer. Suncoast Diecasters has become a greatly-appreciated Additional Family for me, and it all happened because I attended an event at K-Mart.
My family moved to Pinellas county in the late ’70s. We’ve shopped at this K-Mart hundreds if not thousands of times. Back then, our store, the Countryside store, had both a sit-down cafeteria at the back of the store, and a deli counter up front. I remember particularly enjoying the chocolate shakes, because after pouring the shake into a cup, the attendant would always put the metal tumbler (holding whatever didn’t fit in the cup) on your tray as well. It was like always getting a second shake free.
I remember one time while lunching there, there was this small paperboard display on our table. I have no recollection of what was promoted on the front, but I recall that it had the names and logos for K-Mart, Kresge and Jupiter on the back. I hadn’t seen those other two names before, but I eventually realized that K-Mart was part of the Kresge family of stores.
My mom almost always got ham at the front deli, as our last stop before exiting the store. She was convinced it was the best. I have no idea what actual brand (Branding!) of ham it was; we just always called it “K-Mart ham”.
I thought back to the last couple of years of my Mom’s life before she got too sick to remain at home. She had developed this somewhat amusing shopping habit. I’d take her to K-Mart, and she’d buy several shirts and slacks, never trying them on in the store; she’d always do that at home. And a few days to a week later, she’d have me take some or even all of them back because they didn’t fit right. This happened several times a year, and after the first few times I came to expect it.
I mentioned near the top of this post the various local details which to me had kept this particular K-Mart going in the face of numerous store closings. I’ve now realized the irony that very similar conditions did not prevent the prior closings of two other stores. There were at least five K-Marts in Pinellas county. There may have been more; I just know the five: this one at Clearwater/Countryside; one south near central Clearwater; one up in Tarpon Springs; one down in Largo; and one way down in St. Petersburg.
The one in Clearwater closed first. It was on Gulf-to-Bay boulevard, a major traffic channel. Its plaza was between two major intersections. Yet these and other factors did not prevent its closing. It was replaced with a Sears Home Goods or Sears Outlet or some such variation; that, too, is now closed.
(This has reminded me of another Sears closing. In Largo, across from Sunshine Mall [also gone] was a Searstown shopping plaza. I never shopped at that Sears, but I always liked the plaza’s classic main sign with its retro, cursive font.)
The Tarpon Springs K-Mart went next. Again, located at a major intersection, lots of traffic, easy to get to … and still not enough. Over the last few years I found Hot Wheels cars there that I wasn’t finding elsewhere. Pure happenstance, certainly, but I found it worth the trip.
The Largo store was the third to go. Sadly, I have to admit it wasn’t so unexpected. That store was always dirty and messy. On top of that, a shiny new Wal-mart moved in across the street several years ago. Ironically, it caused me to visit that K-Mart more often. My only efficient option for leaving the Wal-mart plaza was to turn right out of its north exit. Since I was facing east anyway, rather than turning north at the intersection to go home, I would often just “naturally” roll on through and stop over to that K-Mart.
As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been having memories of spending a lot of time at the Largo K-Mart, maybe fifteen years ago (the time frame is strictly a guess), shopping in a certain pattern within the store over and over; memories so clear I could almost redraw the store layout for you. The only thing I couldn’t recall was why. The Holy Spirit just brought it back to me: Garden borders. My Mom always kept our yard decorated with trees and gardens. At some point she began buying (and I began hauling) a particular style of scalloped garden border from K-Mart to surround the gardens and trees. But then we couldn’t find them. After several trips in a row with no borders, we asked a cashier in the Garden Center about this. We were told that, for reasons I do not recall, this K-Mart, “our” K-Mart, was no longer stocking them. But, then we learned that the Largo K-Mart was still getting them. So, several times a year, for a couple of years, I would drive down to the Largo store; park by the Garden Center; see how many borders they had so I could see how many I could get on that trip; go inside and visit my favorite departments (Toys, Electronics, Hardware, etc.); make my purchases; and go back out to the Garden Center to get the borders. Honestly, it’s strange how clearly I see myself retracing my steps in that store.
Curiously, shortly after the Largo K-Mart closed, Wal-mart closed its new store there, tore down the old K-shell and built a shinier, newier store across the street from its former self. This basically killed the old plaza. Among other stores, there was a Dollar Tree, a relatively new Aldi, and a barber shop which had been there for decades. But when Wal-mart skedaddled across the street, most of the old plaza’s customers went with it. There’s an Old Time Pottery in there now, but most of the smaller spaces are still empty.
The plaza the Countryside K-Mart is in used be almost twice its current size. It was L-shaped, with a big paved gap between the sections so you could use the southwest exit without having to drive all the way around the “foot” of the L. There were probably twelve to fifteen stores there. Beside K-Mart, one of the larger tenants was a Michaels craft store. There’s also a YaYa’s Chicken. (There used to be a Long John Silver’s in a stand-alone building out on the eastern portion of the lot; it closed and the YaYa’s moved in there.) I seem to recall a dry cleaner at the west end of the L-foot. I have no recollection what took up the main part of the foot, but something, perhaps a Jewel Osco, moved in about eight years later. Some time in the ’90s (I think), the foot was torn down, and everything but K-Mart was gutted out of the other section, and a Lowe’s went in there.
By the end of January 2018, it will just be the Lowe’s and the empty K-Mart shell. I don’t know if Lowe’s will expand into it, or tear it down, or if some other store will move in there. I hope a new tenant moves in.
Some people point to K-Mart’s relationship with Martha Stewart as the start of the chain’s troubles. Others fault its purchase of Sears. Neither K-Mart nor Sears seemed to effectively capitalize on online sales. Self-promotional giants Amazon and Wal-mart are harsh competition. Many business writers fault Sears CEO Eddie Lampert. Perhaps it’s a combination of all these things.
And yes, I know, nothing lasts forever. All good things must come to an end. It just bothers me that so many pieces of the fabric of Americana have disappeared. Jackson Byrons (later J Byrons, then just Byrons), gone. Not much for toys, but I remember our family shopping there very often. (That’s another lament for Sears; they had a really nice toy department, at least through the ’80s.) J C Penney is and has been struggling for years. Woolworth’s, Woolco, McCrory’s, Zayre, all gone. The Sears at Countryside Mall (now Westfield Countryside, officially) gave up half its first floor for a Whole Foods Market.
Soon, only the St. Pete K-Mart will be left. I’ve never been there, but I recently found out via their website’s store locator that it’s not tooo far from the Sports Bar & Grill. So, after our December meeting I’ll drive over there and check it out.
I don’t see myself actually attending a K-Day event there, however. As Jacye pointed out at this last K-Day, if the Countryside regulars attend a St. Pete K-Day along with the St. Pete regulars, that seriously reduces one’s odds of getting an early-round draw in the ticket raffle. Plus, that’s an awfully long drive south for that hour of a Saturday morning.
Of course, I say that now. We’ll see what happens when the next K-Day rolls around.
As I said, I’ve been attending K-Day events regularly (with a few misses) since 2004. I don’t know when K-Day started, or when they began doing three a year. But from ’04 through ’17, I’ve had approximately forty opportunities to not only get my hands on the freshest Hot Wheels models, but to also just enjoy the company of fellow collectors.
K-Mart, thank you. I wish things were going better for you, and I hope you get things fixed; but thank you for all those wonderful opportunities. Mattel, thank you. I don’t know if you’ll go in with another store chain if K-Mart finally folds (I hope you will); but thank you for having these little parties for your collectors. Thanks to Jayce, Adam, Steve and all the other Countryside regulars for years of laughs, jokes, complaints, photos (and the associated bragging rights) and the great camaraderie. And thank you, Abba-Father, for arranging to have Original Ken show up with a stack of flyers at that wonderful 2006 K-Day.
To you collectors who’ve never attended a K-Mart Collector Day, if you have a K-mart near you (or reasonably not too far from you), I recommend that you attempt to attend one if you get the opportunity. You’ll meet fellow collectors, and be part of something that’s becoming more and more rare.
And finally … See you at our December meeting!