Town leaders aim to retain retailer

Announced closing of local Kmart spurs Front Royal council into action

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — Town Council plans to ask Sears Holdings to reconsider or delay closing the local Kmart store.

Council members agreed at a work session Monday to send a letter or to adopt a resolution expressing their concern over Sears Holdings’ decision to close the store at 465 South St.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt told members he wanted to urge the company either to delay or not go through with the action. Other members were quick to support his request. Closing the retail store would leave area residents with few alternatives. Many shoppers would need to use the U.S. 340-522 bridge to go to Walmart — the next largest retail store in the area. Construction of the new bridge crossing is expected to take a few years and create traffic delays.

“The reason I say that is it’s going to be a hardship for the next two years for people to get back and forth to Walmart or whatever because of the bridge construction,” Tewalt said. “Maybe we can play on their sympathy … I’d like to see it indefinitely [delayed] or at least a period of time.”

The Warren County Board of Supervisors may also join council in making the request. But board Chairman Daniel Murray Jr. said Tuesday that such an effort usually doesn’t make much of a difference.

“I almost feel the resolution is a nice thing to do and it might make people feel good,” Murray said. “But if a company has a bankruptcy issue or they’re closing across the country, everybody who has a store is going to send a letter. But it doesn’t hurt.”

“Personally I don’t think it’s going to do much good,” Murray said.

The supervisor said he lived through two large plant closings in years past in other states that were not stopped or delayed by politicians’ efforts.

“I wish we could do something about it,” Murray added.

Murray suggested that the town now should look at ways to market and redevelop the Kmart store, perhaps attracting an educational institution such as a community college to take over the space. Murray recalled that similar situations occurred with plant and store closings where he had lived.

“I would be contacting corporations, anybody, letting them know that this space may become available,” Murray said. “Be proactive, not reactive.”

At the work session, Mayor Timothy Darr said council could take action on the resolution at its next meeting. Darr explained that he and members of his economic committee recently talked about the closing.

“I’m surprised, to be honest with you, it made it through the first cut last year,” Darr said. “It’s a corporate decision, but we may get lucky. They may have a compassionate ear. We can always try.”

Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker added that the bridge construction might increase business at the Kmart as area shoppers try to avoid bridge traffic. Tewalt concurred and also voiced concern for the employees who soon would be unemployed.

Parker suggested that council see if the Warren County Board of Supervisors would be interested in adopting a similar resolution. The store’s closing also negatively affects the county’s tax base, Parker said.

Councilman Thomas Sayre pointed out that many people from Rappahannock County travel into the south end of town to shop at Kmart and other stores.

The company plans to close the store in mid-January, according to information provided by Howard Riefs, director of corporate communications for Sears Holdings.

Asked whether or not Sears Holdings would consider council’s request, Riefs stated in an email Tuesday that “Making the decision to close a store is never easy. We value our relationship with the community, and while this decision has been made, we welcome the feedback of the Town Council.”

The closure comes as Sears Holdings takes action to cut expenses and change its business model. The Front Royal store employs 88 people, most of whom work part time. Workers eligible for severance packages also can apply for open positions at other area stores, Riefs said. The Front Royal Kmart will begin its liquidation sale Nov. 2.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com