Thursday, May 30, 2013

[Suburbia Lost] Blue Light Special


What good is a grocery store if you can't pick up a pair of cheap jean shorts while you're buying Doritos? Yeah, you can get those things at Target and WalMart, but you also can at Kmart - the perennial third place discount mega store. The mega store that has closed and abandoned locations just like this one all across the US.

- Kmart, Ridge Rd. Photograph by Ronny Salerno

I moved to Northern Kentucky in 2010 and discovered just how wonderful Jet's Pizza is. One day, I decided to pick it up after work instead of calling in delivery. I drove to the Newport location for the first time and as I pulled into the lot I was amazed to see a Kmart. There's plenty of abandoned ones around, but this one was different - it was open. The lights were on and people were walking in and out of it. I thought I had mistakingly driven my car through some sort of trans-warp conduit, flying back in time Marty Mcfly style to the mid 90's. I thought Kmart was totally gone, but tere in Newport the "Blue Light Specials" could still be found.

The same can't be said for this particular Kmart off of Ridge Rd. in Cincinnati though. The sprawling store sits in a massive parking lot where the cracks in the asphalt mirror that of a dry lake. At one end of the parking lot is the remaining foundation of the store's recently demolished auto repair center:

- Auto repair center foundation. Photograph by Ronny Salerno

And at the other end, a closed bank that looks like it could reopen at any moment:

EDIT: Thanks to reader David Merkowitz who pointed out that this bank was originally a National City branch before being converted to a PNC after PNC's purchase of National City.

- Vacant bank. Photograph by Ronny Salerno

The lot's lights and shopping cart corrals continue to rust, while a faded logo for the "Little Caesar's Pizza Station" can still be seen.

- Cart corral. Photograph by Ronny Salerno

Kmart filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2002. A new CEO was brought in to change things, but he pulled an Enron-style scam and just screwed things up even more for the company that was failing to keep up with the ever expanding competition. The chain dismissed the new CEO, closed 300 stores, laid off ~34,000 employees and began rolling out new prototype stores. The new prototype was cancelled when the company didn't have enough money to execute it nationwide.

- Looking inside at the former "garden center." Photograph by Ronny Salerno

Eventually though, Kmart emerged from bankruptcy and finally started showing signs of improvement, they even bought rival Sears and started merging the two stores in certain locations. By 2011 though, they began closing stores again.

- "Please park carts here." Photograph by Ronny Salerno

At their peak, Kmart had stores in 49 U.S. States, all U.S. territories, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. Today, Kmart is just limited to the U.S. and its territories. Despite the discount chain's decline, they've been in the news recently with a new marketing format. The store's "ship my pants" and "big gas savings" commercials have been viral hits on the internet.

- Pizza station. Photograph by Ronny Salerno

Will those viral hits turn into customers though or will the abandoned Kmart scene continue to be common amongst suburbia?

- Bank drive through. Photograph by Ronny Salerno

Suburbia Lost is an ongoing documentation of decay in the sphere of a perceived paradise. After years of photographing abandoned, forgotten, and often historical locations in the city, this project aims to take a look at how structures fare in the sphere of suburbia. You can view other entires in the project, here


  1. There used to be a Venture store here in Houston that Kmart bought out.K-mart closed in Texas many years ago, however we still get the commercials on TV. There is one Kmart I noted all the way down in McAllen TX on the border.

    1. I only go near the one near me when I want pizza. I imagine Kmarts are pretty crappy.

  2. The bank was built by National City right before the economic collapse. It was open as an PNC for a very short time after PNC bought National City. Soon after it was merged with the PNC up in Pleasant Ridge that has been there for many years.

    1. Thanks for the info David. I figured it bit the dust right around the time the crisis hit, it seemed really new.

  3. I believe that was an Advance Auto Parts and not a K-Mart affiliated service center.

  4. There was also a photohtaph center on the inside and a cafe. The cafe is quite obvious if you have a flashlight, you can observe all the checker styled walls and flooring. Quite the maze once you get to the upper story!

  5. There's still a Kmart off Beechmont Ave and I've visited once. It just felt dirty and almost like I was at a really big garage sale....

  6. Originally this was two separate stores, IGA occupied the left 35-40% of the building from the 70s(?) until 1993. K-Mart declined to renew their lease in 1993 and then took over their space, expanding to fill the entire building.

  7. There are still K-Mart stores in Australia; they never went away and seem to be doing quite well.

  8. As a child, this was the K-Mart of choice for our family. Of course this pre-dates the one being built in Blue Ash very near your abandoned Arby's. I spent quite a bit of time in this K-Mart shopping with parents, siblings and grandparents. It did originally have a K-Mart Service Center out front. I am always amazed at the lack of re-purposing in favor of building new buildings.

  9. We moved from Deer Park to The Goshen/Milford area when I was a child, the Kmart on St Rt 28 was the store of choice that my parents shopped at. I can remember the store going thru numerous renovations thru the years. When I was in high school I always used the Kmart lay-a-way. And I'm sure several students from all the local school districts worked at the store through the years. It closed several years ago and the building still sits empty as does the adjoining strip mall that thru the years has housed a hair salon, TCBY, General Dollar and a fitness center for women ( I can't remember the name). There was also a Thriftway right next store that was built new in 1983/84, it has also since closed but it has another business there. It is sad to see a business that was so necessary for our communities closed and nothing different in its place at that location.