June 22, 2013

Why I Like the Big K (Where Image Isn't Everything)

Despite the narrow aisles and low ceilings, constructed for a time of skinnier people and skinnier carts, Kmart feels simultaneously spacious and airy and at the same time, from a different era.  You go there not because the prices are lower (like Walmart) or for its snazzy, trendy wares (like Target); you go there because there will be no lines, no people to run into from work, but also likely no pocket-sized Pizza Hut/Dunkin’ Donuts/Starbucks (which is neither unfortunate nor fortunate, I suppose).

At Kmart, there happen to be fewer shoppers sporting SpongeBob PJ pants and slippers, screaming kids, and the current common cold du jour than the Walmarts and Dollar Trees of yore, though it is not to say that the store doesn't cater to a humble group of folk.  At my local Kmart, for example, there happens to be a high percentage of Franco-American senior citizen shoppers with their polyester pants and carts stocked with whatever cleaning products that happen to be on sale, which provide a certain familiarity because they happen to remind me of my own late Franco-American grandmother.  
Nevertheless, while I am never particularly jazzed by the stock of goods that Kmart has to offer (things like storage bins and shampoo always seem to be just a little inflated in price and there is no particular flashy gimmick, such as the promise of a nice stash of new Essie nail polish or trendy, one-season-only apparel freshly hung on the clearance rack), there is something warm and fuzzy about the Big K, and what can I say? I am a real sucker for the warm and fuzzy.

Typically, the soundtrack at Kmart brings me straight to the late 1980s or 1990s, playing ballads from Heart or Celine Dion or even Amy Grant (I believe "Baby Baby" happened to be playing the last time I was there), and it makes me want to head straight to the coloring book aisle and pick out a little something for my former 6-year-old self. 
In its glory days, the Kmart I used to go to was a bustling destination complete with a well-stocked music department, not to mention Walkmans galore.  But the especially exciting feature at the Kmart from way back when was its in-house cafeteria, which, if you could get past the cloud of cigarette smoke, lent a delightful little reprieve to the end or middle of the Big K shopping experience.  They had every fatty, processed, nutrient-devoid dreamboat snack you could want: hot dogs, chicken fingers, French fries, various cream pies, your standard stash of handy-sized chips, and a nice selection of fountain sodas (including, I believe, Mello Yellow).  The cafeteria abutted the hair product section, which was next to the cosmetics section, which meant that the Caboodles (remember those?) were somewhere mixed in between.  How I remember this is no matter, but I loved my Caboodles almost as much as I loved my perm. 

But back to 2013.  I found myself wandering the aisles this past Saturday, well, because I needed some laundry detergent stat and because Kmart happened to be next to the record store where I picked up some Seals & Crofts (summer is when I crave the smooth '70s tunes).  And while I was there it occurred to me how grateful I was to be able to have the freedom to aimlessly wander the aisles of Kmart on a Saturday, but also how grateful I am that there is such a place in 2013 that is neither flashy, nor hipster, nor bottom-barrel cheap, nor particularly relevant, which is, quite honestly, really refreshing.  
With its underwhelming aesthetic and lack of identity, Kmart is a kind of unassuming and safe haven, much like Empty Nest (that everyone used to watch but everyone apparently forgot about besides me, it seems), or maybe it’s just where I like to spend a random hour on a random Saturday afternoon, simultaneously out in the world while also away from it.  We all need a little of that in our lives, I think.

Image credit: Pinterest

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