Kmart, An Unlikely Astor Place Icon, Shutters Without Notice

The Astor Place Kmart, a long-time purveyor of discount goods and, in its later years, an eerie husk of a one-time retail empire, has shut down for good.

The final day of business was on Sunday. Employees received just 48 hours notice, according to a store manager, and shoppers were not alerted ahead of time. The closure was first reported by the neighborhood blog EV Grieve.

By Monday morning, liquidators were packing up mannequins and clothing racks, as a security guard informed would-be patrons: “No more Kmart.”

“It sucks!” lamented Joel Garcia, an MTA bus driver who frequented the Kmart between shifts. “I’ve been coming here for 10 years. Where am my going to get my shirts now?”

The two-story storefront was the last Kmart in Manhattan, after the Penn Station counterpart shuttered in early 2020 as part of a wave of closings. Fewer than two dozen Kmarts are still open throughout the country, including two locations in the Bronx.

Mannequins and empty clothing racks inside Kmart

Mannequins and empty clothing racks inside Kmart Jake Offenhartz/Gothamist

Both Manhattan storefronts landed in the borough in 1996, when the chain had more than 2,100 stores nationwide. The urban expansion, particularly the Astor Place location, was meant to help the company discern the tastes of “the young avant-garde of Manhattan,” according to executives.

Though many New Yorkers greeted Kmart’s arrival as an unwelcome symbol of encroaching suburbia, the store at 770 Broadway eventually earned a reputation as an off-kilter, if decidedly unhip, feature of downtown life.

“The number of times I have not found the thing I was looking for in this huge store,” recalled the writer Jaya Saxena, after learning of the store’s closure on Monday. “God bless.”

“Somehow both hellmouth and reassuring presence,” added Anil Dash, an East Village resident.

For years, the store has offered bargain prices and unexpected merchandise that set it apart from standard department stores. Off-brand shoes, home appliances, and medical supplies might mingle on a single rack, next to holiday display that was reliably three to four months ahead of schedule.

A third floor restroom, one of the few in the neighborhood that was accessible to the public, was widely mourned after Vornado Realty Trust bought out the level in 2018 to make room for Facebook, the building’s main tenant.

The chain has struggled in recent years, losing out to more modern big box stores, as well as Amazon. In 2019, its parent company, Sears Holding Corp, filed for bankruptcy; since then, a subsequent owner, Transformco, has overseen the closure of nearly all of the remaining stores. (Inquiries to Transformco were not returned; Vornado also did not reply to a request for comment.)

Prior to this weekend, the Astor Place location was one of just 23 Kmarts remaining in the entire country, according to the department store expert Michael Lisicky.

“Despite its current open status, the location suffers from the company’s misfortunes and corporate misguidances,” Lisicky wrote of the Astor Place store in March. “After years of missed payments and unpaid bills, Kmart’s relationship with many of its longtime vendors has evaporated. It has led to empty shelves and unusual selections of off-brand merchandise.”

Despite its fading status, the Kmart still had plenty of supporters. On Monday, shoppers who’d made the pilgrimage from as far as New Jersey and Forest Hills pressed their nose into the window, and turned away in disgust.

“I can’t believe this shit,” muttered Bonita, a retired Manhattan resident, who said she’d come to buy her husband a pair of jeans. “This is my favorite place to shop!”