June 18, 2011

Special Report: American Fare or American Failure, a history of the hypermart

American Fare 1989, Stone Mountain, GA
Some of you are thinking what's American Fare? Isn't it one of Kmart's house brands? The answer is yes and no. Flashback to two decades ago and you'll discover that Kmart opened a few stores under that name. It wasn't until later on that they adopted it for use as one of their house brand names.

Before Super Kmart Centers there was American Fare. It was a concept that Kmart created in the late 1980's to be their American version of a hypermarket, a retail concept started in France by Carrefour. Kmart's American Fare hypermart was very similar to competitor Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Hypermart USA, and both were started around the same time. Carrefour opened two of their hypermarts in the US also around the same time. All three companies hypermarts didn't make it past the mid-90's.

A hypermart is a fusion of a department store and a grocery store along with other extra services. They range in size from a little over 100,000 sq ft to 250,000 sq ft. Today's closest equivalent to hypermarts are supercenters, although most are a bit smaller than the larger hypermarts of the time.

American Fare was a joint venture of Kmart and Bruno's Supermarkets, Bruno's supplied the grocery side and Kmart stocked everything else. Kmart owned 51% of each store and Bruno's 49%. The idea was to offer very low prices thus lower margins and to make up for it with extremely high volume locations. These store were more upscale in looks than current day Super Kmart Centers.

The first location was opened on January 29, 1989 in Stone Mountain, GA. The second opened on April 1, 1990 in Charlotte, NC and a third location followed in August in Jackson, MS. These were the only locations that ended up opening and the concept was discontinued completely in 1994, but more on that later.

Upon it's debut in 1989, the first American Fare in Stone Mountain, GA was a sight to behold. Coming in at 244,000 sq feet, this monster mecca of shopping was a first for Kmart. According to an article, this store had an upscale flair with several fixtures and displays that were retail firsts at the time. American Fare was able to convince companies to carry brands not normally found in other discount stores. Some of them included Calvin Klein, Jones New York, Puma, Bill Blass, Beverly Hills Polo Club, Hush Puppies, among other well known brands. Although this store was huge, the assortment topped out at just 45,000 sku's. American Fare practiced a merchandising strategy they called selective dominance. They would carry a limited selection in certain categories but keep a large amount of each item on display.

American Fare present day, Stone Mountain, GA (Courtesy of Bing Maps)
At 244,00 sq ft, American Fare would make most Walmart Supercenters jealous. The store was divided up with 105,000 sq ft being devoted to hardlines, 75,000 sq ft to food, 35,000 sq ft for apparel, and the remainder to the mall section of the store. The mall part included 12 specialty shops including: a music and video store, a full-service bank, a hair salon, a pharmacy and a greeting card store (both operated by American Fare), plus a food court. The food court featured a Taco Bell and a TCBY. The store also had the "largest retail scratch bakery in the US." This store had a whopping 81 registers including 61 "custom designed" front end checkouts and 20 others in service departments around the store. It also had 1,800 parking spaces and 2,500 shopping carts for customer use.

Fast forward a year later to April 1, 1990 and American Fare made its second store debut in Charlotte, NC. With the opening of this store it marked the redesign of American Fare, a better selection in a less intimidating store. And less intimidating it was, at only 164,000 sq ft it was considerably smaller than the Stone Mountain store. This location came stocked with 110,000 sku's, over double what the Stone Mountain location had. The Stone Mountain store was re-merchandised to match the offerings at the Charlotte location after its opening.

American Fare present day, Charlotte, NC (Mike K. photo)
To make up for the smaller size of the store the aisle length was cut down and several of the "mall" shops were eliminated or absorbed into other parts of the store. The fixtures in the apparel department were wheeled closer together removing some of the spacious feeling the Stone Mountain store had. The Charlotte location also cut down the number of checkouts to 43 with 32 on the front end. Some departments like the florist shop and greenhouse were not added to the Charlotte store. The store did feature a photography studio, as well as a Little Caesars Gourmet Pizza and Little Caesars International Submarines shop.

Following the Charlotte store, a third location was opened in Jackson, MS on August 23, 1990.It was 147,000 sq ft and was nearly the same in looks and merchandising as the Charlotte store. A fourth location was briefly planned for Birmingham, AL, but never came to light.

After the opening of the Jackson, MS store, Kmart announced it was not planning anymore American Fare locations. It would instead open Super Kmart Centers, another new concept that was based off of the American Fare stores. The first of which opened in July 1991. In June 1992, just three and a half years after the first American Fare debuted, Bruno's Supermarkets ended its partnership with Kmart. That left Kmart to take full ownerships of the three stores and the responsibility of running the grocery sections. Unfortunately that spelled the beginning of the end for American Fare. In November 1992, the Jackson and Charlotte locations were converted into Super Kmart Centers. In 1994 the Stone Mountain locations grocery section was removed and the store was subdivided. A Cub Foods opened in the newly subdivided grocery area and the rest of the store was remodeled and converted into a regular Kmart location in May of that year.

By May 1994, American Fare was gone completely. It wasn't Kmart's fault, the hypermart concept as a whole failed and was extremely short lived. By the mid-1990's all hypermarts were gone from the US and the supercenter concept was expanding in its place. Following this, Super Kmart Centers began their brief dominance.

Fast forward to 2011 to take a look at the current state of the former American Fare locations. The Stone Mountain, GA location was refurbished into the Dekalb County Schools Administrative and Industrial Complex a few years ago. The parking lot is used for the county school buses to park and practice driving on a small course in the lot. The Jackson, MS location survived as a Super Kmart Center until 2003 when the bankruptcy closings hit. It was torn down in 2007 and replaced with a Carmax used car superstore. The Charlotte, NC location was a Super Kmart Center and then briefly a Steve & Barry's. Today it's vacant and still retains the original American Fare building style.

What are your thoughts on American Fare? Do you think it was a good idea or a bad choice from the start? Share your comments below and let us know.

Special thanks to Mike K. for recently capturing these photo's of the former Charlotte, NC location. He also made a short video of it on Youtube.

American Fare Charlotte, parking lot looking toward entrance (Mike K. photo)


American Fare Charlotte, front of building (Mike K. photo)

American Fare Charlotte, Former Auto Center (Mike K. photo)

18 comments:

  1. Awesome post! I've always vaguely heard about the American Fare stores, but have never really known too much about them. I wish I could've seen one of those stores so badly...especially the massive Stone Mountain store! I just consider myself lucky to have ever been to a Super Kmart store! I would love to visit another before they're all wiped out. Last time I was at one was when I was about 12 or roughly 10 years ago. I had never been so happy to walk into a store in all my life! We drove 4.5 hours just to get to this Super Kmart...that was the only reason we went on the trip. My love for Kmart has been around ever since I was just a little boy! Super Kmarts blow Walmart Super Centers out of the water, so it's a shame they never gained the hold that Walmart did. :( Thanks again for the GREAT website!

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    1. I agree with you. I love K Mart and cannot stand walmart. I would shop Kmart any day of the week. Support Sears every chance. Kmart b9ight Sears a few years ago. Sears is also one of my favorites.

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    2. I agree with you. I love K Mart and cannot stand walmart. I would shop Kmart any day of the week. Support Sears every chance. Kmart b9ight Sears a few years ago. Sears is also one of my favorites.

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  2. The sad part is that Kmart never really took the Super Kmart concept to its full advantage. Instead of replacing decades-old stores with new Super Kmarts in every market feasible - aka updating infrastructure instead of hanging on to outdated stores in stagnant demographic areas, Kmart lost out and left the door open for Wal-Mart (ugh!) to sweep in a tidal wave of new Supercenter construction. When Kmart failed to follow suit, well there went the demise of the remaining Super Kmarts, of which are dwindling in number even now to what - less than three dozen by this point compared to Wal-Mart's 2500+?? This paints a bleak picture for the rest of the company unless Sears can resurrect Super Kmart ala Sears Grand style but with a Herculean building boom to match! :)

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  3. I love KMart. We only have one left in my area of Central Fl. I shopped there yesterday, so much merchandise. I thought their offerings were a step above what WM offered.

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  4. I used to work at this Charlotte/Matthews store when it was American Fare. I worked there when it first opened in 1990, then again in 1991. When I worked there, I remember that Walmart was just some store a few miles away that I'd never been in. We were constantly competing with Walmart for the lowest prices. Now Walmart has taken over ... I'm afraid Kmart just doesn't know what to do about that.

    BTW - If there are any pictures of the inside of this or any of the other two American Fare stores, I'd LOVE to see them.

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  5. I think Kmart could use another innovative venture like this and partner with someone that knows the grocery business. It could carry Kmart merchandise but be free of the Kmart name and association, sort of like how a few years ago Starbucks opened a few stores that were a Starbucks in all but name and appearance.

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  6. When I lived in Tucker, Ga I went to the American Fare there. I loved that store, it had everything. Fresh sea food, produce was excellent good prices. I didn't realize that American Fare and PharxMor had closed up. When we lived in Florida I worked at Phar Mor and really liked that store oh well, life goes on.

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  7. Are you sure the Jackson store was torn down? I found a store at the site that looked exactly like the old hypermarket, the imagery I saw was from 2012. It appears this store is now a Comcast cable facility and that the Carmax store opened on the parking lot area. Check out Google maps and see for yourself it is at 597 East Beasley Road in Jackson, MS.

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    1. According to the news article I read it was torn down for the Carmax. But after looking at the Google maps and then looking at the Bing maps, it's definitely still standing. You're right as the building was renovated and is now home to Comcast. If you put that address on Bing maps and zoom in all the way using the birds eye view, you can see the building before it was renovated into the Comcast and before the Carmax was built in the old parking lot. I'm pretty sure when I did my research for this story that Carmax is using American Fare/Kmart's old address though.

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  8. It is SO nice to see I'm not the only person in the world with such an unhealthy Kmart fetish! I agree, Kmart has always fascinated me. They are the most underrated and unappreciated company I know of. I even find myself throwing extra unnecessary items in the cart when I'm there just to give them a bigger ring. I've always wanted to go on a super Kmart road trip but never found the luxury of time since Iive in Missouri. Thank you again, sites like this give me some vague hope that Kmart can make it :) they certainly have through some times when the end seemed inevitable

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  9. I worked at American Fare Stone Mountain for 3 years. That place was absolutely unbelievable. People would walk in with these dumbfounded looks on their faces and had absolutely no idea where they should begin their shopping. It was just too damn big. Yes, it was spacious and comfortable to shop in but the miles one had to walk to shop were more like an "expedition". It was busiest on the weekends when people had time to trek but weekdays it seemed like a tourist attraction. You needed to carry a snack and a full meal to walk from one end to the other. Also, it was located in an industrial area with no homes nearby to support it. It was very convenient for the thugs getting off the Marta Bus (public transport in Atl.) They could shove a VCR down their pants, walk directly to the returns desk, and walk out with bus fare and crack money. Ill conceived and ill fated but it was fun working there.

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  10. I opened the American Fare store inCharlotte as the Operations manager..The partnership with Brunos was a joke they shipped short dated product to the american Fare stores and they tried to keep the rebates that should have gone to the stores.The rebate from just Coca Cola was over $225,000.00 a year .

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  12. I worked on the initial design of the store and was in Atlanta for weeks prior to the grand opening. It was a beautiful retail space but, as mentioned, way too expansive for the average customer at that time. However, they had some wonderful merchandise that I purchased and brought home for my then young children. I was sorry to hear the news when they closed them down relatively quickly. I can't help but smile when I see AMERICAN FARE as one of their private label brands in their stores today.

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  13. I was part of the management team that opened the American Fare store in Jackson, Mississippi in the summer of 1990. We had some great people from both Kmart and Bruno's. I would be interested in reconnecting if you have any information about the management staff from that store. Thanks.

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  14. I wonder how the inside looks like and if there is a picture when it was still as American Fare,Super Kmart and Steve and Barry's.

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  15. Thanks for the update on the Stone Mountain, GA, American Fare. I knew it had gone, but it wasn't until I spotted the site on Google Earth that I realized it had become the local public schools HQ. I was working for a now long dead community newspaper when it opened and can report that the word "hypermarket" must derive from the word "hype." The promotion for the new store was far bigger than the store itself. And that's saying something.

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