Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Vestige of Norwalk Kmart "Hanging" In There

Does anyone remember a Kmart at 330 Connecticut Avenue in Norwalk?

"There's always something there to remind me."

At least that's what the U.K. new-wave group Naked Eyes said in 1983, earning their chart topper which was likely once available on cassette at this long fallen former Kmart site on the Route 1 strip in Norwalk.

A plaza whose since lured a few tenants to occupy what was once home to a Fairfield-area Kmart, partitioned within the ailing vestige of Kmart's shadow -- with nothing but one of their signature mid-70's-era rooflines hanging above a dark sidewalk, sandwiched between future occupants TJ Maxx and Best Buy.

Upon an investigation, we had discovered the site at 330 Connecticut Avenue, which also goes by the name of "Norwalk Plaza," was in fact once anchored by Kmart entirely -- but not for too long. A heritage has apparently never left the plaza.

Here's where it gets stranger.

Best Buy, who succeeded now internet-banished, New York-based Nobody Beats The Wiz, or known in later years as simply "The Wiz" (which will share eternal fame on the count of many a Seinfeld re-run) removed only a couple of the "roof plys" on the right end to accommodate remodeling for the Best Buy store, a task The Wiz neglected.

Both retailers were negligent in removing the entire facade, including Best Buy who only sought to remove less than half of it.

A Kmart "roof ply," representing each segment on the overall roof facade which began rolling out in 1975 until 1980s iterations of the chain's look.

Beneath the forgotten scaffold roof, which just hangs there, is a walled off, former tight-squeeze entrance/ways and showroom windows many discount department stores were well known for before the advent of mega-sized vestibules (to possibly accommodate mega people, mega items) and sliding doors. Upon visiting a Kmart these days, you'll be notice the doorways and the rich, chime of age old motors working too hard to open the swinging doors as you squeeze yourself and your cart through to get inside the store.

The entire site is nothing short of an oddity today, serving no purpose, largely unquestioned by the many patrons of the plaza today. There's even an interesting elderly "Fire Lane" sign.

As seen in this earlier set of photos, likely taken during the later 1990's, by the ever-resourceful property management outfit SiteRide, one can see the once signature five-ply roof scaffold comparatively bogged down to just the three it retains today. Why not just take the whole thing down?

The world may never know.

But you may know. Perhaps someone might be able to fill us in on when the Kmart opened, when it closed and how long it was closed for. It obviously was not successful, believed to have been over 15+ years within vacancy.

Currently, there are a good handful of vacant, original Kmart stores left behind in recent years' waves of closings and other retail use which include Orange, Manchester and East Haven. A former site in Derby was recently cleared away for an incoming Lowe's Home Improvement. Norwalk further bolsters the fact, adding yet another chapter of shame in that the New Haven-Fairfield market is not a good one for the Kresge Company.


Anonymous said...

I'm happy to say that although a fairly well-stocked Kmart fell in my area in the mid-90s, but it was soon redeveloped into a value-oriented center currently anchored by a "U-Rent-It", Tractor Supply Co., Goodwill, and an Asian supermarket. Oddly enough, Goodwill still has the original tile and lighting unchanged from the Kmart days. And tonight, we're getting Chinese food from the restaurant built in the old parking lot. :)

GeorgeL said...

Kmart is still alive in Milford CT or maybe its Devon? Either way its right on the Milford/Devon line. I'm about 20 mins away and was passing through a couple weeks ago with 2 of my boys. We stopped in just for the hell of it. Its been ages since I walked thru a K-mart. Still has that K-mart smell. Anyone know what Im talking about? Its much different from the walmart or target smell. LOL. I took some pics of the kids inside rummaging through the toy ailse and also a couple shots of the exterior. I wonder how much longer it will last? How many left in CT?
I also work 4 mins away from the Norwalk plaza featured in your great article Nick. It never dawned on me that it was a Kmart. Next time I hit norwalk toys r us on my lunch hour I'll swing by this location afterwards and do a little snooping around. Any Kmart shopping basket wreckages in back? I'm trying to collect as much vintage retail artifacts as possible for my garage. Im going to turn it into a museum of vintage retail. I've got a few cool things up and more going up this weekend. When I'm all done I'll send some pics!

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

The only Kmart surviving in the area is in fact in Milford, on Bridgeport Avenue. Someone told me it's been there since the 1970s (I'm inclined to believe 1980). It's not a surprise, the store is a tad left-behind, not unlike most stores remaining in the state.

It must've been the only profitable store of the heap of ones that have died in the New Haven area. The one in Milford looks like this fallen one in Norwalk (with the same style roof, albeit slightly remodeled) and even contains a vintage Garden Shop sign (one of two left on Kmart stores in Connecticut -- pictured on my Flickr).

And I definitely know what you mean by "the Kmart smell." I attribute the scent to all of aged or dead retail, it triggers memories of most of the stores that died around the 2000s (especially Caldor and Bradlees). It's a nostalgic smell indeed and I certainly love it.

I like this garage/museum idea and I'd like to see some of the pictures.

Oh and by the way George, without sidetracking too much, I asked the Westport Toys R Us if I could buy some of the memorabilia (not sure if I told you this). They took my number but no more than one hour later, the big cheese told me they couldn't sell any of the branded stuff as its owned by vendors or such. I wasn't surprised -- figured I've give it my own shot.

GeorgeL said...

I have a funny story I have to tell you about the westport Toys R Us. Lets just say this, sometimes in life you have to go over peoples heads to get what you want. I took it to the next level and it paid off. ;-)

I'll tell you the story after I show you what I got out of there. Its a good one! I also have plenty of pics of the exterior after it closed and also some new ones of it boarded up with plywood. Big bold labelscar and all. Really sad its gone. The norwalk store blows.

I'm going to have to hit that Kmart again one of the upcoming weekends and check out that garden sign and do a full lap of the store. We didnt have much time last time we were there. Before that the last time I was in that store was probably mid to late 80s with my grandma and cousin. I honestly forgot it was there. We primarily shopped in Milford from "gloria's garden center" up to the old Sears in Orange. Mainly the milford/trumbull malls and Milford TRU.

Stay tuned for the garage pics. I'm just waiting for my dad to come over and help me mount something then I can snap some pics. Hopefully he can make it tonight.

Tim Parry said...

Can't give you a full timeline, but I believe that K-Mart in Norwalk closed in the late 1980s. It was replaced by a Rickell home improvement center, then the first of two incarnations of The Wiz... when The Wiz re-organized in the early 2000s, they cut the store floor size in half and only operated in the right-hand side, with a completely different look and feel. But there was a door to the partition that was always left open, so you could actually see all the old shelving and decor of the old store. Strange, huh? :) I'll see if I can find more info for you, dates and such.

That facade actually stands in front of the TJ Maxx store, even though it has its own storefront.

pika23 said...

We have 4 Kmart's in my area...I don't go to them of course because they are always disorganized and dirty....I had a summer job at one location in summer of 98. Ugh...the horrible smelly fitting rooms...one night i got so mad I slammed a door and cracked a mirror in the big fitting room, and to this day its still there covered with clear packing tape!

Anonymous said...

I've found a rare video of what Kmart looked like back in 1990 (old discount store signage included!!!), this brings so much memories of what Kmart used to look like in the really early 1990s for me.

This is a real treat.


Anonymous said...

I remember the K Mart on Connecticut ave in norwalk.....I also remember there was a rickell and this was in the dayz before the Home Depot.....The whole of Connecticut ave was lined with a Caldor as well as a bradlees with an attached stop and shop which u could walk into from the bradlees entrance and this is going back into 1979 to 1982....also there was a family affair restuarant on the other side of bradlees.....I believe that Wal Mart and Target as well as the Home Depot and other big boxes are resposible for all the northeast department stores folding....how could they compete?? I wish they were still here and i cant wait for the day of theyre demise...wal mart etc......they suck and dont have a family feel to them....pure garbage.....CT did itself a diservice by allowing them in.....RIP

Jeff M. said...

I have vague memories of this Kmart being there (though I never went inside), but I had begun to think it was just a dream. When I saw it, driving past on Connecticut Ave., must have been in the late 70s, and it couldn't have closed too long after that -- Tim Parry (who I think I know from Primedia, hi Tim!) is wrong when he says it closed in the late 80s. It had to have closed 10 years before that. I worked in the Caldor central office at the other end of Norwalk from '82 to '85, and ironically, I recall management at that time being petrified that Kmart and/or Wal-Mart would move into the area. I kept thinking I had seen a Kmart on Connecticut Ave., but I where I thought it had been was a Rickel. I figured I had hallucinated it because it never occurred to me that Kmart would close a store! Even more ironic, the main Caldor in Norwalk is now a Wal-Mart, and the one on Connecticut Ave. (actually West Norwalk) just down the street from this location, is now Kohl's -- but a short distance away, the former Bradlee's is another Wal-Mart.

Anonymous said...

When the Norwalk K-Mart closed it became a Rickel store and then Lloyd Lumber followed by The Wiz to it's current incarnation as Best Buy. This store had a restaurant in the back, but always
had a cart of Italian combo sandwiches just past the entrance doors, the place smelled like red onions once you got about 12 feet in. They were right on top of the
Atari 2600 craze, I can still vividly
remember the layout of the place.
Also if you go to the Pearl Visuion Center exit there still stand an original K-Mart exit sign
in K-mart colors faded but a nice piece.

Anonymous said...

This was the Kmart that Martha Stewart shopped (and presumably did promos at) at when she lived on Turkey Hill Road in nearby Westport.

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Anonymous said...

I actually remember what was at the site of the Norwalk Kmart before it was Kmart....... a drive in movie theater. I remember my parents taking me to it in the late 70's to see Herbie the Lovebug and others. The Kmart at that site was short lived. Maybe 1979-1989?

Edward said...

After kmart. I believe it was Rickel, The Wiz then finally Best Buy. My mom loved kmart. Too bad it closed. The only tine we went to kmart was in Rhode Island the Milford. She loved Kmart...where was the movie Rain Man we needed it. "Kmart Sucks!"