At Kmart, a nostalgic walk through the aisles

By on February 12, 2020

I wasn’t expecting to feel the way I did when I walked into the Kmart in Kill Devil Hills the other evening. After all, I was only running an errand to replace a broken coffeemaker and ensure that I had a warm cup of coffee in the morning. Hearing the news of the store’s scheduled April closing last week, I felt for the employees who would have to be looking for other work. But as far as the store itself, I hardly gave it a second thought.

The Big K on the corner of Fifth Street and U.S. 158, to me, seemed to have been dying a very slow death for years. And besides, it was just another store, right.

Until the other night, I would venture to say that Kmart is not a place where many people find themselves getting emotional. In fact, in recent years, I would say that Kmart was not a place where many people went very often. So, during my search for a Mr. Coffee, I was surprised at my visceral reaction as I passed the Valentine’s Day display, Easter merchandise and then the toy aisle.

My mind wandered back through all the years when I had walked through these aisles during the many seasons of my own life as a mother, and my children’s childhoods. This is where we agonized over the safest infant car seats to purchase, bought countless diapers, baby toys and pink and blue onesies.

As youngsters, the kids picked out their very special winter coats in these aisles, ones that sported either a rainbow of colors or the latest superheroes. It was here that both my kids proudly marched out with their first bicycles and scooters, where their eyes lit up at Christmas displays, where they searched for the perfect birthday present for friends and toddled through the toy aisle dreaming of what Santa would put under the Christmas tree.

I came home that night with my new coffee maker, a 2020 planner for my 17-year-old daughter and a pack of gum for my 13-year-old. But I also came home with a different perspective of one of the Outer Banks’ original big box stores.

Since Kmart opened here in the early 1990s, we’ve seen a handful of big-name stores come to the beach. But for a long time, if you lived on this end of the island, this is where you shopped – it’s where you took the kids to pick out a toy after a traumatic visit to the dentist, bought plants to fill your garden in the spring, or got the little ones sidewalk chalk, pool toys and bathing suits in the summer.

I guess that maybe sometimes, the everyday places are the ones that embed themselves into our memories and conjure up a feeling of nostalgia when we know they won’t be there much longer. And while I came home with my coffee maker, I also came home with a new appreciation for a store I never really thought much about over the years.

It’s true that Kmart is just another store, another brick and mortar that is going by the wayside. But in many ways, maybe for many of us, it will always be more than that.


  • Greg Smrdel

    Very nice story Michelle!

    Wednesday, Feb 12 @ 2:32 pm
  • sandflea

    Sounds like SAGA wants to buy it and make it a strip mall. I would like to see a Target, Sam’s or COSTCO move in. Would save trips to Virginia. I don’t think we really need any more strip malls.

    Wednesday, Feb 12 @ 3:02 pm
  • Randy

    Sad to see one the final Kmart stores closing!
    When it first opened I remember how good it felt to walk around the store when it was 90° on the beach and what felt like a nice cool 68° in the store!
    I watched the store slowly erode away to the other big stores also.
    I was a secret Santa a few years ago for Christmas. When I wanted to help some of the folks out with layaways the manager said they have all been put back on the shelves for non payment. They had one left that was for a young lady buying baby stuff for her new baby, not born yet and not Christmas stuff. I saw the manager a few days later and she told me the young lady was crying joyful tears! This of course made me tear up!
    I will miss this entire chain! As the article says, as a kid I loved walking the store for each season!
    Hopefully something will replace the Kmart and need to hire twice the amount of employees and pay them a living wage.

    Wednesday, Feb 12 @ 3:24 pm
  • Pam

    I too will miss K-Mart. Shopped there for many years as I live right near here & so convenient. It began when the pharmacy closed & I know longer had the help of Brian Miller, the pharmacist. My visits were less & less, but when I did go…bargains were found! I did go the other day & feel they raised their prices before they really start to liquidate their inventory. I feel for those loyal employees…. I do hope our local businesses consider them for employment if they come looking! Good luck to ALL of them!!

    Wednesday, Feb 12 @ 4:03 pm
  • Brenda and Patricia

    Kmart will be missed. When I’m at the beach I go there at least once everyday to buy something. I guess anyone with reward points needs to make sure they use them. Hope no big hotel go in the place of it. Maybe another store. No more grocery stores.

    Wednesday, Feb 12 @ 8:44 pm
  • OBXer4Life

    Saw that coming way back, they just let the place go to the toilet, always 2 lanes open, even during the season, not to mention had my credit card hacked from there one time. Pretty much lost my business long way before all this took place.

    Wednesday, Feb 12 @ 9:20 pm
  • BB

    TOO SAD!

    Thursday, Feb 13 @ 12:31 am
  • Dave

    Sad. Around the turn of the century, this Kmart was number five in sales volume for all Big Kmart stores across the country, out of 2200 stores. They were huge supporters of local charities, including the Babe Ruth World Series, Toys for Tots and the Catfish Hunter benefit, to name a few. The largest contributor of tax dollars in KDH. Hope the box does not stay empty long.

    Thursday, Feb 13 @ 5:33 am
  • Karla Sawyer

    Very well put it brought tears to my eyes and many memories came rushing through my mind. Thank you for sharing this with the Voice so we could all remember when.

    Thursday, Feb 13 @ 6:29 am
  • WombatNC

    Time for the county and municipalities, especially KDH, to buckle down and come up with a private/public plan to purchase the property and turn it into affordable housing. This unique property presents a plethora of possibilities to generate tax revenue, but no one’s going to be making any money unless we can get employees to staff our businesses. I’m sure that K-Mart is looking for some corporate tax breaks and they might be willing to sell at at a reduced rate. So, lets go gov’t peeps – do it, do it now!!

    Thursday, Feb 13 @ 7:15 am
  • Peter Vankevich

    Well done. Just did a shop there. They even have a Western Union sign at the entrance. 2

    Thursday, Feb 13 @ 2:32 pm
  • BooSue

    Please get a Target in there!

    Thursday, Feb 13 @ 3:19 pm
  • Celee

    I live in Virginia, but make at least 2 or 3 trips down a year. When my daughter was still in school we shopped her school clothes there while on vacation in August. Every trip to the outer banks we shop there. Going to really miss it.

    Thursday, Feb 13 @ 5:43 pm
  • Jim

    I will miss the Big Red K and the Blue Light Specials!

    Thursday, Feb 13 @ 10:43 pm
  • Cheryl Baker

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that gets emotional when a store closes! When I went in to our local Kmart for the last time before it closed, I got teary-eyed. My husband kinda laughed at me about it, saying it’s just a store! I was so hoping the KDH Kmart would still be open when we make our annual OBX trip around the end of April. I guess not! We used to go in there about every day when we were on vacation. It was so much more convenient to run in there quick and grab a few things, rather than fight the horrible crowds at Wal-Mart! Oh well, another one bites the dust!

    Friday, Feb 14 @ 10:07 am
  • DS

    Sad story. Sears purchased them and then they both went down. At one time they were both the “Kings” of their kind. Sears was King of online and then their stores were also a “huge” deal. I knew of Kmart way before I had ever heard of Walmart. Now Sears Craftsman products are owned by another big box store. So sad. No Sams or Cosco thank you! Then all of the Mom & Pops go extinct, which are already dying due to the big box stores as it’s too small of a place to divide up business. I’m sure some local will put an option on it and flip that option for 3x the value without ever owning it; with the new owner being the County, Tourist board or the Town.

    Tuesday, Feb 18 @ 12:20 pm
  • karen Berry

    Even though i complained about this store,i am going to miss it. I just hope that what replaces it will benefit the locals also and not just cater to the tourist. So tired of all these same beachy stores everywhere. Wings and all those kind of stores. A Target, Costcos , any nice afforable stores would be nice. Might just be tore down and have more Condos,i wont be suprised .
    This place is growing rapidly so we need variety. Be nice if these people would see what we do not have and give something new a chance.

    Wednesday, Feb 19 @ 6:17 pm
  • Michael Myers

    What a cheeseball article. Haha. Ahhhhhh memories of the K fart on the Outer Banks. Rediculous article!! The whole OBX has become a complete cesspool literally and figuratively with all the thousands of septic tanks buried all over. It has been over run by the almighty tourist dollar. Kfart was never an icon of the area..,just a department store that’s been around awhile. Hey author… Keep .”memory lane” to you and your family please. What needs to be talked about is the corruption and waste of taxpayers dollars in the area. The beach nourishment in the towns up and down are a complete joke also. Pollution in the Sounds, etc. Instead we get these cheeseball articles of how the beach once was or a trip down memory lane. Typical present day OBX HYPE!! HAHA Whatca joke!! Sheeples…

    Thursday, Feb 20 @ 5:57 am