The recent announcement to close the last two Kmart stores in Delaware County is giving local leaders some optimism for the future.
After being open for decades, the department store chain’s presence at MacDade Mall in the Holmes section of Ridley Township and the store on East Baltimore Avenue in Clifton Heights will be no more come mid-December.
Losing a big name retailer will mean the loss of jobs - a spokesman for Kmart's parent corporation Transform Holdco, LLC. declined to say how many people either store employs - and mercantile tax revenues for the municipalities.
But there is the possibility about adding something new to these spaces after Kmart outlasted so many other businesses in the area such as The Bazaar, Bradlee’s, and Rickel Home Center.
“It’s sad to see that era end, and we’re eager at the opportunity to try to redevelop the property, a new tenant or owner to continue to make that a viable commercial property,” said Clifton Heights Mayor Joe Lombardo. “Obviously, I have a lot of different feelings about that. I feel bad for the people that work at the Kmart. They have to go out and find a new job.
“From that standpoint it’s sad. They’ve been in Clifton for a long time. The other side of the coin is that it’s a huge redevelopment opportunity for the borough that we need to try to take advantage of.”
Business has been a key part of Clifton’s history including the Kent Mills along the Darby Creek and as the original manufacturer of the Slinky Toy. A state historical marker for the Slinky was dedicated in the borough on Aug. 30. Lombardo said recently that the borough is going through a redevelopment renaissance as interest in establishing new development projects has been ramping up over the past year.
One project in the works is to redevelop an old mill site on East Broadway Avenue into a residential complex. For another, the borough is looking at a $5 million plan to convert the former Hillside Nursery location, just up the street from the Kmart, into a small retail center. Lombardo said a proposal includes two restaurants, a retail space and an urgent-care medical facility.
Another way to drum up investment in the borough is through its federal Opportunity Zone designation which provides tax benefits to investors to spur economic activity.
The Kmart, an 88,000-square-foot building on over 8 acres of property valued at $2.2 million, is just the spot to continue the borough’s economic development plans.
“Through the last 12 months some of the developers working in the town have inquired about the Kmart property, but it was never available,” said Lombardo.
Lombardo said he is in talks with the land owner - listed on the county tax rolls as Gator Clifton Partners Ltd., based out of Hoffman Estates, Ill., where Kmart’s parent company is headquartered – to talk about its future uses.
“My intuition is that something will happen quickly. Sometime in early spring we’ll know what’s going to be there,” said the mayor. “We have to look at this as an opportunity. Ironically, it happens when we’re in this redevelopment push with the town, at the county and state, and federal levels. We have to look at it as the glass half full.”
The Kmart store in Holmes is the largest tenant by square feet, 105,000. at the MacDade Mall location at 2600 MacDade Blvd. owned by shopping center owner Wolfson Group Inc. The anchor store was there to see the revitalization of the mall over five years ago that included a Ross and Marshalls department stores, Retro Fitness gym and Citizens Bank as tenants. Payless ShoeSource closed at the center a few months ago as the company closed all operations. The same happened at the Clifton Heights store at Oak Avenue and Baltimore Pike.
“It’s terrible when any store closes, especially a big location like that,” said Ridley Township Board of Commissioners President Bob Willert. “I’m shocked they’re closed. We’re seeing if he (Wolfson) has a Plan B. We’d definitely like to see something go in there. You have to have someone who is willing to pay and a developer willing to listen. We try to get people together and show how great Ridley is. I think it’s now a thriving shopping center. The developer has a lot of other developments in the area so he has that contact.”
Attempts to reach leaders of the Wolfson Group, including President Steven Wolfson, were unsuccessful this week.
Ridley has extended business interests in the township ranging from the Boeing plant and a slew of big name retailers and small businesses stretching along MacDade border-to-border from Glenolden to Chester City.
Willert said economic development has been great in the township. He touted the successes of converting the old Pathmark into a Lidl supermarket that opened late last year at 420 MacDade Blvd., Folsom, razing the former Habitat Restore into a handful of businesses in the 800 block of MacDade Boulevard in Folsom and the approved plans to convert a cash for gold store at the corner of MacDade Boulevard and Kedron Avenue into a car wash.
Additionally, the former Barnaby’s of America restaurant in the 2100 block of MacDade will be renovated into a new eatery.
Willert understands the impact of having bigger businesses being established in the township while a number of people note the empty storefronts throughout Ridley.
“People may see it differently because of the smaller, open spaces and you have to get people in to buy them and change them over,” said Willert. Still, “we have had a lot of good development and trending upward.”
“It’s a shame that (Kmart) closed. You hate for a big retailer to leave. We got to do our best to fill it with what’s good for the community.”