Kmart’s locations are dwindling but its in-store soundtrack has a time
Kmart, once one of the largest big box retailers in the United States, has died a long, silent death for decades. CNN reports that there are only sixteen locations left and that the retailer closed its last store in California over the weekend. But his store soundtrack has had a while.
Since 2015, the Internet Archive has hosted hours of in-store Kmart soundtracks from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, much of which is extremely harmless elevator music that gently shakes memories of the smell of popcorn, Endless fluorescent ceilings and glorious toy aisles. Audio is a fascinating glimpse into the recent past and a highlight of Musak, the trademark in background music whose name has followed the path of Q-tips and Kleenex, becoming an umbrella term for all background music. Kmart may be nearly dead, but the nostalgia for retail lives on.
Get into the spirit of a very Kmart Christmas with this holiday-themed tape from 1991 and notice the dated commercials playing between the easy-to-listen soft rock tracks. The announcements, read in a soft, soothing voice, remind shoppers that smoking is permitted in the cafe but not in the shopping area. The voice promotes outdated technology with a tone of authoritarian pride.
âHigh tech doesn’t have to be expensive,â says a 1989 tape. âJust ask Martha Stewart, our entertainment and lifestyle consultant. She recommends trying our Gemini cable, VCR and phone accessories available in a wide assortment of styles. Gemini: just another big name who’s comfortable with you and Martha Stewart. “
Some of the calming announcements are narrated by Cecil Rutherford, whose obituary describes him with an iconic title: “The Voice of Kmart”.
Retail nostalgia – The ephemeral audio pleased the crowd of Internet users who gladly listen to elevator music. Kmart’s tracks were adopted by the Vaporwave artists of the 2010s. Specifically, they added fuel to the microgenerous dubbed Mallsoft which idealizes the AESTHETIC mall of the 90s and the mundane beauty of Nowhere, USA (see also : Tumblr blogs from abandoned shopping malls). Soft rock soundtracks see a second life on Soundcloud and Spotify as musicians remix, sample and merge into lo-fi beats. Texan musician Juicy the Emissary even created an album called “Attention Kmart Choppers” in 2017. As the pandemic continues, we return to the audio associated with idle moments in elevators and endless shopping aisles.
Who saved it all? Mark Davis started pocketing the soundtracks shortly after he got a job at Kmart at the age of 16. The collection, which he admits to being odd, was in the interest of future nostalgia. âYou get to know music. Whether you like it or not, it carries you all day long, âhe said on the For the dungeons podcast, adding that the pre-recorded tapes were played ten times a day and changed monthly or weekly. When Davis went to college, service center employees kept the tapes to feed his collection.
After college, he returned to Kmart in a managerial position before finally turning to a career in IT. In 2008, the Home Archivist began to upload images to Youtube on a regular basis. Davis’ penchant for nostalgia is evident in the content of his channel: clips from his 1991 high school assemblies, newsletters, and tours of his many, many collections (Atari 2600 cartridges, Western Electric phones, and toys from Texas Instruments Speak & Spell type, to name a few).
In 2013, his third most popular video reintroduced the old-school Kmart soundtracks to the world. When the 10-minute description of his collection began to gain traction, Davis agreed to upload the collection to the Internet Archive. The Kmart Treasure of Nostalgia began to gain media attention, inspiring Kmart aficionados such as Florida man Tom Schwarzrock to contribute to the collection. “Attention Kmart Shoppers” has gone from 56 original cassettes to 149 audio tracks.
Mark Davis says he laughs with people joking about his unusual fondness for collections (an MTV headline says “This Guy Saved Five Years Of Music In Kmart’s Store, For Some Reason”). One of his best Youtube comments says “you care more about Kmart than about their CEO.” Davis, who continues to document retail and tech-related curiosities to this day, puts it simply, âI’m a collections person. “
Music from the FMH – So if you want to relive the heyday of Kmart while you WFH – or get into the shopping spirit by scrolling through Amazon – there is no better soundtrack than âHey Kmart Shoppersâ. Davis says the channel started singing its tunes over satellite in the ’90s and moved away from ambient soft-rock in favor of pop hits. Which is to say the retailer would have had a different fate if he had continued with the easy listening.