Business as usual at local Kmart, Sears stores

Changes may come after merger complete spokeswomen say

BY SUE M. MORGAN Staff Writer

Staff Writer

WEST LONG BRANCH — Inside the Kmart on Route 36, wistful holiday music is playing, numerous red-vested sales associates are busily stocking displays and ringing sales, and the aisles are already decked from floor to ceiling.

A handful of shoppers inside, on a Thursday night a week before Thanksgiving Day, shuffle throughout the store, going about their own yuletide preparations on an unseasonably warm mid-November night.

As expected, it was business as usual at the department store even though its corporate ownership had made major news headlines one day earlier.

On Nov. 17, Troy, Mich.-based Kmart Holding Corp. and Sears, Roebuck and Co., based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., announced they had signed a merger agreement to combine both retail giants into a major new retailer to be called Sears Holdings Corp.

Once the transaction is completed as expected in March, Sears Holdings will become the nation’s third-largest retailer, with approximately $55 billion in annual revenues, 2,350 full-line and off-mall stores, and 1,100 specialty retail stores, according to information posted on Kmart Holding Corp.’s Web site.

Closer to home, however, it is uncertain how or if the merger will affect the Kmart in West Long Branch, or for that matter, the Sears department store at Seaview Square shopping center in Ocean Township.

Kmart Holding Corp. officials have indicated in press releases that some Kmart stores, in markets to be determined after the merger goes through, might be converted to Sears stores.

Whether or not that could be the fate of the West Long Branch Kmart store is not certain yet, according to Nina Devlin, a New York-based spokeswoman for Kmart Holdings.

After the two corporate entities close the sale in March, each store will be looked at individually for its overall profitability and how it fits into the marketplace in that particular area, said Devlin, who was unsure how many employees are at the West Long Branch location.

“Several 100,000 Kmarts will become Sears,” Devlin said.

Physical improvements will be implemented and new inventory will be added to any remaining Kmart stores, Devlin added.

A manager at the West Long Branch store would not comment on how many persons are employed there and referred all questions to the corporate offices.

The fate of the Sears in Ocean Township as well as two Sears Auto Centers, one at Seaview Square and the other on Route 36 in Eatontown, will also be determined following completion of the merger, according to a corporate source.

As with Kmart, each Sears store will be looked at individually on a “market-by-market” basis, said Corinne Gudovic, a spokeswoman at Sears’ corporate offices.

Both corporate spokeswomen indicated that some brands such as Sears’ Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands and Kmart’s Martha Stewart Living and Jaclyn Smith brands might be cross-merchandised between the two chains.

“We want to offer the very best of Sears and the very best of Kmart, assuming the merger gets approved,” Gudovic said.

About 150 employees are employed at the Sears in Ocean Township with about another 15 employees each at the two auto service centers, according to a store manager who spoke anonymously at that location and referred other questions to the corporate office.

The Ocean Township Sears opened in 1977 with the rest of the former Seaview Square Mall. Along with Value City, the two-story structure became a stand-alone store after the financially struggling mall’s middle portion was demolished in recent years. A Target Greatland store and other smaller retailers are now located between Sears and Value City.

The 201,214-square-foot Sears building has an assessed value at $9,643,000, according to the township tax assessor’s office.

The more than 30-year-old Kmart building in West Long Branch is assessed at $7,920,200, according to the borough’s tax department.