53-Year Kmart Employee Was There When Store Opened, Will Help Close It Down

Image courtesy of WCIA

In 1963, a young man working at a Walgreens in Illinois heard that a new discount chain called Kmart was opening a new store and looking for employees. He earned $1 per hour, and the shiny new store would pay $1.25, so he applied for a job. He began work in the maintenance department on May 15, 1963, was there when the store opened, and plans to stick around until the store’s last day of business on July 24.

At the time, Kmart was a new chain, growing quickly and destined to replace its parent brand, Kresge five-and-dime stores. The store in Danville, Illinois was popular, with up to 7,000 people passing through every day. Today, there are a lot fewer, which is why the store is closing in just a few weeks.

Since 1963, employee James Forthenberry has been there, and his long service made the local news (warning: auto-play video at the second link). While most people probably wouldn’t connect the concepts of “discount store head of maintenance” and “satisfying career,” he says that he always enjoyed working at Kmart, even after cleaning was outsourced and he took other jobs within the store.

“I was happy here,” he told the Danville Commercial-News. “It’s the only place I’m happy at, right here.”

He usually had a second job in addition to working long hours at Kmart, and says that he thought about leaving a few times. The 74-year-old accepted a few job offers with other companies and even briefly retired, but kept returning to Kmart.

Once the store closes, he might take some time to travel –– he’s visited every state except Washington and Oregon –– and spend some time with his children and grandchildren. He probably won’t sit around his house for very long, though.

“It’s going to be sad,” he told the Commercial-News about what he expects to happen on the day that the store finally closes. “I’ll probably cry. And move on.”

Man leaves long legacy at work [WCIA]
53-year Kmart employee has enjoyed his career [Danville Commercial-News]