Kmart 7/7 – The big heist

by Nathan Stout

Oh yes, one last time… Quick jump through the time tunnel!

Welcome back to the year 1995. A year or so previous I quit my job at Kmart and because the Kmart on South Freeway in Fort Worth, TX was going out of business (I’m sure it was because of me leaving). I had left for greener pastures. I got a job as a security guard which paid better (only just) but I still had some ties to the good old Kmart.

My biggest tie was to Wade (which can read more about in blog 2), a guy I met shortly after starting back in 1991. A person after my own heart Wade introduced me to the faux pas of wearing short sleeve button-down shirts. He also introduced me more formally to Red Dwarf. Wade infact wasn’t working at (that) Kmart anymore either. He had moved to another store a week before it closed, but (just like some movie) he had put a devious plan in motion months earlier that would come to fruition on the store’s final day.

Now you are going to ask yourself what that plan was? Was the store full of booby traps that would active once the doors closed that final time, trapping the final few faithful employees inside, forcing them traverse deadly puzzles to win their freedom… no. That would have been cool though.

Here is what he did and how we finally got our due from Kmart Corp.

After heading through the time tunnel one more time we find ourselves about three months back when the store was first notified it was going out of business. The plan for headquarters was that the store was to slowly increase it’s clearance discount until it was all 99% off on that final day. This meant that the first several weeks was a crappy 10% off. Then a few weeks later it went to 20% and so on and so forth. During this time it was relayed by management that no employees could set aside products to buy when the discount got bigger. All the stuff people hid away was put back on the floor… except what Wade had hid… mwahahahaaa!

During the initial clearance phase Wade began putting products back in the stock room like everyone else. The reason no one would ever find them is because of WHERE in the stockroom he put them. Wade hid the items in the Vortex Room.

As you can see on the map the Vortex Room was located behind the automotive department. It was basically the air conditioning cooling tower. Most buildings have their cooling towers outside but I guess older buildings would have them inside as well. A cooling tower is where the air conditioning coils were cooled down by running water. The cooling tower was about fifteen to twenty feet high, square in shape, the size of a bathroom and water would run down either side. The water would flow over the a/c coils and then be collected at the bottom and sent back to the top to do it again. The tower was inside the room. The Vortex Room was nicknamed so by myself and Wade because when you tried to open the door it would be very difficult because of the pressure in the room. Then when you got it open and went in you couldn’t hear anything due to the blasting wind.

So Wade slowly took items into the Vortex Room to hide them for the final clearance. He would open the tower and go inside and place the products on the different ‘shelves’ inside the tower. They weren’t really shelves but they worked just like it. This went on for weeks until Wade transferred to the other store.

Now, move ahead several weeks and the final closing day was upon us. I met Wade out front and we went in. The store was ravaged. There was practically nothing left but junk. It was 99% off day and it seems everyone turned out expecting there to be good stuff left. Wade and I made our way in and headed to the back of the store with two carts. At this point I was getting very nervous. I hadn’t really known what all he hid but if it required two carts it must have been a lot. I stayed outside the stockroom doors while Wade went into the Vortex Room and retrieved out booty. The two carts were filled to overflowing. We hauled them all the way to the front of the store down the main isle. I honestly thought we might get mugged or mobbed. People stopped to watch our ‘walk of shame’ to the front. Some people grumbled, some spoke their outrage, others just shook their heads.

We made it to the checkouts and got started unloading the stuff onto the counter. Over near the service desk and front doors the store manager and some district person were looking disapprovingly. The store manager (not Mr. Wiehart) actually said: ‘cohorters of the devil’. Really.

Now the one issue with our ill-gotten stuff was the fact that it was soaking wet. The cooling tower had the constantly running water and if you got close to the walls you would get some of the water on your. Well, all these items were sitting on those ‘shelves’ right next to the water so over the month they got wet and soaked through. The big black woman who was checking us out said: ‘Where did you hide this, the sewer?’ When the total rang up we shelled out $24 and some change. That means the original value was $2,400. I can’t remember everything that was there but I do remember there was an electric shaver, a SNES bazooka light gun and games, 2 Lego Pirate ships, 2 bowling balls (that we had fitted and out names engraved before hand). There was a lot more and Wade took the lion’s share but it was nice that he shared with me. I must say that the experience was worth more than the material items would have even been! We escaped as fast as we could and spent the next few hours opening our new junk.

This ended my Kmart experiences. From time to time we will visit one of the few existing Kmarts (usually the one down near Corpus Christi) and I will fondly walk the store and grab a little bit of the past through it’s ambiance. Kmart was my first job and one of the ones I have the fondest memories about. At the time it was a sucky retail job but since we view the past with rose colored glasses I think that my time at Kmart was fantastic.

That was the last major story I have from my Kmart days but there were many smaller incidents of interest. Here are a few:

  • Our family moved to Joshua so I transferred to the Burleson Kmart and quit after a week. It sucked that much.
  • Once some trouble-causing customer told the store manager my coworker and friend Eric were singing dirty Christmas songs and we got into trouble. It wasn’t true.
  • I used the television that showed hunting and fishing videos at the main counter to tune in the night the special Star Trek the Next Generation had the show with Spock in it.
  • Wade froze a Picard Borg ST:TNG action figure in the worm fridge’s freezer and we eventually broke him apart.
  • I would photocopy funny bits from the HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and pin them to the cork board above the time clock. The other employees just shook their head in sadness.
  • Wade and I were thrilled to learn that they were going to rerelease Star Wars with new special effects! We talked about it all night (little work got done).
  • I spied on my ex girlfriend as she walked through the store (with her new man) using those little one way mirror port holes loss prevention uses to watch shoplifters.
  • Kmart was the first place I ever saw a man seriously dress like a woman.
  • When I worked checkouts big black ladies would pay me in soggy dollar bills they just pulled from their bras… ewwwww.

See part 1 of my Kmart Memories

See part 2 of my Kmart Memories

See part 3 of my Kmart Memories

See part 4 of my Kmart Memories

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