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Attention Kmart Shoppers: The Closing of a beloved friend.
by Kate Bingaman

Kmart makes me tired.

Correction. Kmart used to make me tired. Until my local super store closed its doors last April.

Kmart would calm me by stimulating to the point of exhaustion. The combination of the fluorescent lights, high ceilings, overstocked shelves of product and empty aisles comforted me. That comfort, coupled with the forced exhaustion of the store's environment, would almost always guarantee a good night's sleep.

I was a late night Kmart shopper.

My favorite times to visit were between the hours of two and three in the morning, the quietest hour of consumption in Nebraska. Too late for people who have a 9-to-5 schedule--they do most of their shopping between 5pm and 7pm. Too late for people who work the late shift--they do most of their shopping between 10pm and 1am. But it was the perfect time for me, a graduate student in design who had fallen into a nasty late night schedule that kept me up until 3, sometimes, 4 in the morning.

The peculiar thing is that I didn't really do any shopping.

I would grab a cart and do a couple of laps through the maze of shelves. Cosmetics, toiletries, office supplies, magazines and the cereal aisle were my ultimate destination points. Along my route I would fill the cart or my arms with products that I would never purchase, and then item by item I would discard each one throughout the store. I would talk myself out of ridiculous buys. A pair of spongy, teal, 5lb exercise hand weights would find themselves in the automotive section. An electric crockpot would mysteriously appear in women's clothing. Sometimes I would leave a whole cart abandoned a couple aisles before the exit doors. I was tired. I was ready for bed. Kmart was my odd corporate sleeping pill.

When I heard that the store was closing, I started visiting during the day to watch the store gradually unload its merchandise. I went faithfully during those weeks to check out the markdowns, to watch people, and ultimately, to say goodbye. I also decided to become an active participant in the consumption of marked down Kmart products. No more abandoned full carts for me. I bought Kathy Ireland sunglasses for $1.50. I don't even like sunglasses. I got them because the price was low and they made me look hot in a late 1980's supermodel/girl in a Warrant video-type-of-way. I sifted through the marked down makeup and wondered if I could do anything with tremendously dark foundation. I mean, the price was excellent, but seeing that I have fair-to-medium skin and don't even wear foundation, the purchase would have been silly. So I bought mascara instead. I wandered the office supply aisles and ran my hand over the loose leaf paper, plastic binders and picked up and put down packs of Bic pens. So much product on sale. So many things that I really didn't need.

I was fascinated with the final days of Kmart. The closer the end approached, the more Kmart took on a flea market feel. Kmart was no longer comfortable to me. It no longer made me tired. There was just too much to watch. Too much happening that's not supposed to happen in a discount super store. Merchandise was piled in the aisles. Customers talked louder, took less care with the product. It felt like there were more unattended kids, too. The whole place seemed frantic. Chaotic. Congested. The stability of the super store was gone and people felt rushed to take all they could from this ill corporate giant.

The Martha Stewart section was the first to be blocked off with the yellow crime scene tape. The meat coolers came next--they emptied fairly quickly and were soon baptized with the same yellow bandages. Electronics, hardware, jewelry, and clothing were soon to follow. You could see the lack of maintenance in the store catching up with itself. The floors were dirty. The shelves were dusty. The workers were becoming fewer and fewer. It wore all the signs of terminal decay. And then Kmart shut its doors for good.

A week later, I was taking pictures of abandoned shopping carts in the Kmart parking lot, and a guy there, who was in charge of selling the fixtures in this Kmart, let me go in to take a look.

An empty Kmart is a beautiful thing.

The chaos was gone. The muzak was unplugged. All that remained were a couple of people dismantling shelves listening to tinny oldies on a portable tape player. The fixture guy talked with me for a while, pointing out certain fixtures that he thought might interest me, but I wasn't really listening to him. I was in awe of what was around me. The place felt huge. I was amazed by the pale pastel colors of the walls that I hadn't noticed before. The empty pegboard shelves became abstracted. The meat coolers were still plugged in and the sound created was a steady hum that I had never paid attention to before. Even though I had permission to be there I still felt like I had to be quiet. I was afraid that my flash was too disruptive, my shutter clicking too loud. Kmart took on a temple like quality that I had only experienced in a church or a museum.

So now it's all gone. And as for me using late night shopping as a sleeping aide? My local Walgreen's is working out just fine.

Kate Bingaman is a third year student in design at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. She likes to take pictures of the things she buys. She also keeps all of her receipts. Her website is http://www.obsessiveconsumption.com

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