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End of an era on St. Mike’s

The unglamorous Kmart store on St. Michael’s Drive is finally being closed. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

It may be hard to admit to affection for a big box store. But many of us in Santa Fe will miss the local Kmart store, which is finally set to close in December, its owners announced last week.

For years, the Santa Fe Kmart had somehow survived round after previous round of store closures by the Kmart/Sears chain.

The city’s major retail activity had long ago moved on to the Rodeo/Cerrrillos intersection (and now even further south to the second Walmart store). And despite occasional lukewarm efforts at a makeover, the Kmart remained resolutely non-chic. There’s nothing of Target’s casual fashion hipness at the Kmart. Walmart, the people’s choice, is brighter, more modern, cleaner looking and certainly busier.

But the Kmart was convenient for Mid-City residents and for people coming into town from the east, and even north or east siders looking for a certain shopping experience closer in than Rodeo Road. The store had all the basics, from car batteries to T-shirts and jeans to shampoo and things to plant, and despite being part of a big chain, it retained a local feel, kind of a bodega on steroids.

The very fact that it wasn’t drawing many customers in recent years – a Journal North staffer quips that Kmart seems to always have 15 or 20 cars in its huge parking lot, never more and never less – had its own appeal. Always a good parking spot and no crowds to fight off.

In a 2018 Journal North article about the store’s perseverance in a changing retail world, one shopper was quoted as saying simply, “It’s been here. It’s one of these stores that will hopefully always be around.”

One thing is a real shame. Kmart is closing just as we’re being told the state will be performing overdue maintenance on the state highways through town, of which St. Mike is one. The big Mid-City thoroughfare’s pavement has become something akin to a washboard dirt road, no exaggeration intended. It used to be you needed a sturdy four-wheel-drive in Santa Fe because of the snow. Now you need one just to drive on St. Mike’s.

So what happens to the Kmart site now? The closure could open a door for something different. City government has been talking about grand schemes for St. Mike’s for years (despite the bad pavement).

First, there was the Re:Mike idea, celebrated with a little festival in 2012. The long-term, ultimate vision was to turn St. Mike’s into a pretty, pedestrian-friendly boulevard, with housing and small shops out by the street, living space on top with retail below.

Then came approval of an “overlay” district whose main goal seems to be apartment development for a town that needs more and cheaper housing.

Until now, the Kmart stood as a bulwark against such plans. It’s anybody’s guess if the site’s owners are amenable to any of the new thinking about St. Mike’s moving forward.

It would be great if some time in the near future, the Kmart parking lot has been converted into a beautiful plaza surrounded by affordable and pretty apartment or condo units, with small stores and shops nearby along well-landscaped walkways.

In the meantime, the K-Mart faithful will mourn a closure that means there will never be another blue-light special and longer drives over bumpy roads to buy socks.

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