SPARKS — As drivers pull up to the stalls at the Kmart on Oddie Boulevard in Sparks, as they have been for nearly half a decade, they have no idea they are taking part in a small piece of history.
Open since 1966, the variety discount store has held its own through the ups and downs of the economic climate through the years.
Mayor Geno Martini remembers driving past the super discount store on his way into Reno back in the days of paisley shirts and groovy tunes.
“It sold everything,” Martini said. “It was quite a big deal to have a Kmart.”
At the time, Oddie Boulevard, named after Tasker Lowndes Oddie, the 12th governor of Nevada, used to be a hub of activity for Sparks, with stores lining both sides of the street.
“We had the first department store the region ever had,” he said. “It’s a grocery store now.”
Martini remembers a Montgomery Wards and a ShopCo., which has since been torn down.
“We had some great stores there. It was the shopping hub for the city of Sparks,” Martini said.
Now, as Mayor, Martini is able to help make decisions about what to do next with the boulevard that still holds one of the last memories of that booming era in the Kmart store.
Oddie Boulevard is part of the city’s Redevelopment area, which means it qualifies for assistance in many ways to help it return to its former status.
“We’re looking to fill those buildings,” Martini said. “It’s going to be difficult. I think there’s some opportunity there. There must be a reason why they are staying open.”
For Kmart, as one of 10 left in the state of Nevada, one reason may be that it is booming with shoppers looking for that Blue Light Special.
There are some 1,300 Kmarts left in the U.S., according to Kimberly Freely, communications director for Sears Holding Company, which owns Kmart.
Unfortunately, the corporate office recently announced the closure of 100-120 more underperforming locations.
“While it is never easy to close a store, we continually evaluate our store portfolio and make business decisions accordingly,” Freely said.
George Begstron, store manager in Sparks, said people continue to shop regularly at the store.
“Business is fine,” Begston said. “The selection hasn’t changed any. We still carry an assortment of things we’ve carried all the time.”
The Sparks store recently ventured into allowing a company to sell fresh food, produce and meats from its store.
“It’s something corporate has decided to move into in the last year,” he said.
Although the outside continues to bring back memories of the old days, the inside is booming with business. The store sells automotive gear, fames, toys, hardware, outdoor furniture, plants, sporting goods, houseware items, pantry items and many other goods.
“Everything seems to sell,” he said.
Begston said he hasn’t heard any rumors of corporate shuttering the doors on the stores 75 employees. The store covers 98,000 square-feet of ground space and 77,000 square feet of retail space, he said.
“As far as I know, everything is fine,” he said. “There’s always good times for businesses and businesses that move. We’re all in the same economic times at the moment”