AUGUSTA — Kmarts in Augusta and Auburn are expected to close by the end of year, marking the last of the beleaguered stores’ locations in Maine.

Staff at the Augusta Kmart declined comment Tuesday after company officials confirmed the closures.

Larry Costello, public relations director for Sears and Kmart at TransformCo, released this statement via email Tuesday afternoon: “After careful review, we have made the difficult but necessary decision to close the Kmart stores in Auburn and Augusta, Maine. Liquidation sales are expected to begin in mid-September and the stores are planned to close by mid-December. We encourage customers to continue shopping on Kmart.com for all their product needs.”

The Big Kmart on Western Avenue in Augusta, seen on Tuesday, is slated to close. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Kmart had been owned by Sears Holdings, which has been struggling in recent years to compete in a retail environment that is undergoing unprecedented changes and has announced store closures by the dozens in successive waves in recent years. At its peak, Kmart had 4,000 stores nationwide about a decade ago, a number that’s since torpedoed to well below 1,000. Forbes reported Tuesday that the company was operating around 400 stores nationwide a few months ago even before the recent announced closures, meaning the store count could be “as low as 300 including both Sears and Kmart locations,” representing “less than a tenth of the store count that existed when Lampert bought Sears and Kmart in the early 2000s.”

On Tuesday morning, the state Department of Labor contacted both locations to offer services under the Rapid Response program, according to Jess Picard, communications manager for the Department of Labor.

Rapid Response provides information about health insurance options and re-employment help as well as answering questions about unemployment benefits. The Department of Labor can offer advice and help to both employers and employees with information about their rights, responsibilities and obligations during a closure or downsizing.

The news comes as retail outlets are getting ready for the winter holiday push, and that offers some good news, said Keith Luke, deputy director of development services for the city of Augusta.

“While we’re always concerned about displacement of employees, many of them longtime employees, the good news is that the unemployment rate in central Maine is low,” Luke said.

Maine’s unemployment rate in July was at a historically low 3%, compared with a national rate of 3.7%.

The holiday season is approaching and retail outlets in Augusta’s more popular centers such as the Marketplace and Augusta Crossing are all looking for the type of employees that Kmart is letting go, Luke said.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan This November 25, 2011 file photo shows shoppers at the Kmart at 6:08 a.m. on Black Friday morning in Augusta. Shopping centers were crowded overnight as retailers were offering big discounts. Some stores opened as early as 12:01 a.m. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Maine is one of 30 states identified in this round of closures that will lose either a Kmart or a Sears.

The Augusta Kmart is at 58 Western Ave. and the Auburn Kmart is at 603 Center St.

Company officials announced in early 2017 that the Augusta Sears would close later that spring.  A year later, the Sears in Bangor was added to the closure list.

In October 2018, Sears Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing its massive debt load and losses. At that time, the Kmart in Madawaska was expected to be on a list of more than 180 stores that would close by the end of that year.

The next month, Waterville’s Kmart was included on a list of store closures slated to take place in February.

As a part of the bankruptcy, Sears Holdings sold all its assets to ESL Investments via Transform Holdco LLC.

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