Kmart will stand down about 100 staff and close its store in Bairnsdale towards the end of this month.
The shock announcement took many by surprise, including it seems, Kmart themselves.
The organisation received notification last Thursday that the lease for the building would not be renewed and it had 30 days to vacate the site.
Staff were informed on Friday with one telling the Advertiser they were “upset, shocked and angry” by the news.
Kmart head of corporate affairs, Steve Mann, said Kmart “had been in discussion with the landlord for some time trying to renegotiate an extended lease and were sad to hear that the landlord had signed a new tenant to take over the space”.
“Sadly this means our lease is unexpectedly coming to an end and we will have to close our Kmart store on September 27,” he said.
Mr Mann said Kmart, which has been in Bairnsdale for 15 years, was committed to exploring potential site locations in order to remain in the community.
“We have been part of the Bairnsdale community for many years and built long-lasting friendships with the local community and are committed to being part of it well into the future,” he said.
Mr Mann said it would take several months to fit out a new store when Kmart potentially found a new location.
He said Kmart would look at relocating existing staff to other stores and finding them jobs within the Bairnsdale community.
Kmart shoppers also expressed their dismay on hearing the store would close within weeks.
“It’s very sad, it’s unacceptable,” Bairnsdale resident, Nola Adler, said on Tuesday morning.
“We can’t afford to lose it, we’ll be going backwards,” another shopper told the Advertiser. “I sincerely hope we don’t lose Kmart. I’m getting too old to travel to Traralgon,” Rick
WOOLWORTHS MOVING IN
Woolworths will take over the building once Kmart vacates.
Castlerock, which manages the property site on behalf of local investors, has locked in a new lease with the national retailer.
“After many years of working together, we were disappointed that Kmart chose not to exercise its option to extend the lease, which would have secured the building for them for an additional 10 years,” Castlerock CEO, Hanks Bronts, said.
“As a result we searched for alternative tenants for the building and approached Woolworths about taking up the vacancy.”
The building will require a refit to meet Woolworths’ requirements.
A Woolworths spokesperson said the move “will allow us to build a new state-of-the-art neighbourhood food store with a strong emphasis on fresh and convenient options for customers and improved parking”.
Castlerock said it had been in consultation with Woolworths to prioritise any existing Kmart staff if new positions become available at the store when it opens mid to late next year.
Bairnsdale businessman and investor in the property, Kevin Dwyer, said securing Woolworths on a long-term contract was “a great outcome for the local community and investors”.
President of the Bairnsdale Chamber of Commerce, Jaime Savory, said she was not surprised “Woolworths proactively wanted the location”.
Ms Savory said the Nicholson Street site represented an “ideal location” for Woolworths in terms of car parking, location and overall appearance.
She stressed Kmart “is not shutting down, it just needs to relocate”.
“Kmart has contacted us directly and informed us that they are currently seeking a new premise to re-open,” Ms Savory said.
Ms Savory encouraged shoppers to support local outlets in the town saying the community still has “two locally owned toy shops, a locally owned baby shop, multiple clothing stores, along with numerous discount stores and locally owned hardware stores”.