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Bankruptcy filing surprises local fans



Published: Wed, January 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Customers said they find Kmart friendly, neat, well-organized and uncrowded.

By PETER H. MILLIKEN

and STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS

BOARDMAN -- Loyal Kmart customers praised the discount store and expressed surprise and disappointment at the chain's bankruptcy filing.

The Troy, Mich.-based retail chain filed for reorganization Tuesday in Chicago, becoming the largest retailer to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

"I'm very disappointed because Kmart's a great place," said Maria Batianis of Youngstown, who said she shops at Kmart two or three times a month.

"I like their setup -- their displays, their aisles. I mean everything's just nice and neat. It's organized. When you ask a clerk something, she's very responsive. You get the answer that you need immediately," she added. She said she suspects the bankruptcy filing may have been prompted by competitive pressures from other retailers.

"I was surprised. I didn't think they were in trouble," said Lester Eagle of Youngstown, who said he shops at Kmart twice a month. "Mostly, I'm just looking for bargains."

One prediction: Despite the company's announcement that it intends to keep all 2,114 stores open, Eagle's wife, Helen, predicted that the company likely will eventually close some of its less-busy stores.

She said she likes the chain's selections of cosmetics, bath towels and bathroom rugs. She added, however, that it can take "a long time to get someone to wait on you."

Eagle agreed and said customer service isn't as prompt as it used to be at most of the major retailers.

"It was a surprise, really, because you always see people in there buying," said Alberta McAllister of Youngstown.

Her husband, Albert, who said he shops Kmart twice a month, said he likes the store because it offers a diverse selection of merchandise.

Young shopper's view: "I like Kmart. They've got cool clothes. They've got cool shoes," said Laura Krcelic, 11, of Poland.

"Shoes, music, videos -- she finds everything in here," said her mother, Lynn Krcelic. "They'll come back. Kmart's a good store," she said, adding that she shops at Kmart at least once a week. She said she enjoys shopping there because the staff is friendly and the store here is not as crowded as some other large discount stores. She predicted Kmart will emerge from bankruptcy keeping all its stores open.

Employees at the Kmart distribution center in Bazetta say they, too, are optimistic that the company will survive. Over the last several months, employees there already have weathered the elimination of two shifts and the layoff of about 500 employees.

"It is hard now, but we are going to get through it," said Brenda Killingsworth of Warren, who has worked for Kmart for 20 years. "A lot of people put a lot of work and effort into this."

Another employee, Dick Caraway of Warren, said that he thought the company's management would be able to turn things around.

"Things are going to begin looking up," he said.




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