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New Kmart differs from the rest

(ran TN edition)

You can still catch a bargain during a "blue light special" at Kmart's newest store on Waters Avenue, but that's where the similarity between this store and other area Kmarts ends.

"The prototype is in Michigan, and this is pulled off it," said Nancy Jones, manager of the new Kmart at 7651 W Waters Ave.

The 119,000-square-foot store in northwest Hillsborough is the company's largest store in Florida and only the second of its kind in the country. Its forerunner is in Auburn Hills, Mich., Jones said.

"The advantage is that we no longer have departments mingled with other departments," Jones said.

In place of narrow aisles and crowded counters, the new Kmart offers wide, well-marked walkways with separate departments for everything from big men's clothing to housewares.

"It's great," said shopper Maria Batista of Town 'N Country. "It has more things than other Kmarts."

Kmart is not new to Town 'N Country. Until last month, shoppers could browse the aisles of a Kmart store at Memorial Highway and W Hillsborough Avenue. But company officials decided to close that store and move from the busy intersection.

"It was hard to get in and out of," Jones said. "This location is more accessible."

Kmart has faced increasing competition in recent years from discount retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target, and began an overhaul of its stores and marketing strategy in the mid-1980s. But Thursday, Jones dismissed the idea that the chain's new image is a response to its competition.

"It has to do with our philosophy and our renewal program," Jones said.

The store's new site is within a stone's throw of a Wal-Mart store on Waters Avenue. But Jones said the nearness of another discount store was not a factor in the company's decision to move to the new location.

"It's a good location and it was available," Jones said.

Customer Jesse Taylor, however, is pleased by the proximity of the two stores.

"With Wal-Mart across from Kmart, people will shop at one and then go to the other," Taylor said. "We senior citizens do that. We have the time."

In addition to an open feeling, the new Kmart offers such specialty services as a pick-and-preview video department where customers can sneak a peek at videos before renting them; a spacious audio area; an image center with one-hour photo developing and a photography studio; a sit-down snack bar; a wide array of cosmetics with a salesperson nearby to answer questions; a pharmacy; and an indoor garden shop.

Jones said all future Kmarts will follow the pattern of this store, though company officials have no plans for any other stores this size in Florida. They do plan, however, to build similar stores in Georgia and Alaska.