GREAT BARRINGTON — Berkshire County's only remaining Kmart store will close in December, according to the national retail chain's parent company.
In an email message, Howard Reifs, a spokesman for Sears Holdings, which owns both Sears and Kmart, confirmed on Monday that the company had made the "difficult but necessary decision" to close the Kmart in the Barrington Plaza at 546 Stockbridge Road.
The news caught Great Barrington town officials off-guard.
"The first I've heard of it was from you," Great Barrington town manager Jennifer Tabakin told an Eagle reporter Monday afternoon. "I was under the impression they were staying open. It's unfortunate."
The Great Barrington store is one of 64 Kmarts in 28 states that cash-strapped Sear Holdings plans to close shortly before Christmas, Business Insider and the Wall Street Journal both reported on Monday.
Kmart lost 67 percent of its business between 2000 and 2015, the financial website Seeking Alpha.com reported last year. The new round of closings means that 14 percent of Kmart's current stores are scheduled to be closed, Seeking Alpha reported on Monday. Shares of Sears Holdings are down 42 percent so far this year.
"We have been strategically and aggressively evaluating our store space and productivity, and have accelerated the closing of unprofitable stores as previously announced," Reifs said.
A liquidation sale at the Great Barrington store will begin on Thursday, and the store will remain open to the public until mid-December, Reifs stated. Kmart's Great Barrington outlet opened 40 years ago this month, according to Eagle files.
Most of the employees at the Great Barrington Kmart are either part-time or hourly workers, but the total number of associates could not be determined Monday because the list "is not publicly available," Reifs said.
Employees who are eligible will receive severance and be given the opportunity to apply for other positions at area Sears or Kmart stores.
Sears has outlets in both Great Barrington and at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough. In Massachusetts, the closest remaining Kmarts to Berkshire County are located in Holyoke and Springfield. Kmart also has a store in Bennington, Vt.
Betsy Andrus, the executive director of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce in Great Barrington, had mixed feelings about Monday's announcement.
"From the chamber perspective I'm conflicted because we really want people to shop local and want our funds to stay local, and we really want to support all our businesses throughout our nine towns," Andrus said. "It's conflicting because we also want to keep all of our young and mixed income families here in this area, and sometimes some of those families can't afford what's in our downtown stores. They need a very basic place to go and buy basic stuff so I hope that whatever replaces it can fill that void."
The Great Barrington Kmart has struggled along with the rest of the chain the last few years, Andrus said.
"I will say that the Kmart really wasn't servicing this area well. It was in bad shape," she said. "It seemed like they were always operating with a skeleton crew...It always seemed like the same dozen people over and over."
One local shopper lamented Kmart's decision.
"What a shame!" said Diane Cinella of Lee on Monday. "I come here from Lee at least once a week. That's too bad."
The Barrington Plaza is owned by Kimco Realty Corp. of Hyde Park, N.Y., a real estate investment trust that is North America's largest publicly traded owner and operator of open air shopping centers.
Through a spokeswoman, Kimco confirmed the Great Barrington Kmart is closing, but said it's too early at this point for the company to name a replacement tenant.
Originally a branch of the S.S. Kresge Corp., Kmart opened its first store in 1962. The chain grew rapidly during the 1970s. When the KMart shopping center opened in Pittsfield's Coltsville neighborhood in August 1971, the chain was opening new stores at the rate of 1 1/2 per week. The Pittsfield outlet was Kmart's first store in New England.
In addition to its former store in Pittsfield, Kmart also operated a store in North Adams that closed in 2002.
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.