Longevity, loyalty, passion and dedication are words that can be used to describe a group of Kmart workers who have been with the store for the long haul at Lawrence Village Plaza.
Cumulatively, their years of service with Kmart total nearly 3 1/2 centuries. They all were working when customers shopped for countless blue light specials offering special savings, and they were able to get to know their regular customers well.
They loved their work so much over the years that they stayed, but soon they will say goodbye to their jobs.
The store, which opened its doors in Shenango Township on March 17, 1977, at Lawrence Village Plaza, closed permanently Sunday, marking the end of an era for Kmart in Lawrence County.
The store remained open for Black Friday, when shoppers sifted through what remained, looking for deals and buying up drastically reduced merchandise. More of the inventory sold Saturday and Sunday, leaving much of the store virtually empty when the doors were finally locked.
"This was the first time in 42 years that there was no line outside on Black Friday," store manager Gary Kennedy mused.
The staff, many employed for three or four decades, had learned a couple of months ago that their days of working there were numbered.
The longtime employees will work for two more weeks clearing out shelving, upturning the counters and making sure the store is left clean inside before they say their final goodbyes.
As they sat in a circle on a few remaining folding chairs and a sofa during their lunchtime Monday, some grew teary-eyed as they recounted memories they've all shared during the store's 41 1/2-year stint.
For Kennedy, who has worked for Kmart for 30 years, the store's closing has not yet sunk in, nor has the fact that he will be out of work.
"For the first two weeks it will feel like I'm on vacation," he said, "but then I imagine the reality will hit home."
The store's longest-running employee is Rebecca Richards with 45 years of service. She was hired as a high schooler when S.S. Kresge's five-and-10-cent store occupied that spot, according to Kennedy.
Kmart Corporation, a department store chain headquartered in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, started near Detroit, having incorporated in 1899 as S.S. Kresge Corporation. Kresge's at Lawrence Village Plaza became a Kmart in 1977.
Judy Ferucci is the store's second-longest employee with 42 years of service. She remembers the day the store opened as Kmart.
"I was here when the freight came in the doors," she said.
She started March 2, two weeks before the first customers entered. Her job had been to manage the "soft lines," or home goods part of the store. She also had worked in the Kmart that was on Belmont Avenue in Youngstown, Ohio.
"I've been to many stores, and these people were the best," Ferrucci said of the New Castle store.
Joyce Deck has been with Kmart for 41 years, and was initially hired to oversee the shoe department in the Kmart at North City Plaza in Neshannock Township. Most of her years were spent managing the ladies' underwear and sleepwear department. The Kmart at North City Plaza closed nearly two decades ago.
"We had the best lingerie department in the country," she said.
She and Ferrucci shared a memory of two men who went to the Lawrence Village Plaza store every morning and gave each worker a Lifesaver mint. Ferrucci still had some of the candies in her pocket on Monday.
"They did it for years and years," she said, lamenting how much she will miss seeing them.
Deck and Ferrucci traveled often to many of the Kmart stores in their jobs.
"We cleaned up many stores to make them look like our New Castle store," Ferrucci said.
Ferrucci said she actually hired Kennedy, who then became her supervisor. During his career, he had 13 store assignments throughout the company and he also worked at its home office in Troy, Michigan, where he was in charge of lottery sales, Western Union, "Smart" plans (extended warranties) and the phone kiosk, he said.
"This store was always up to par," Ferrucci said, remembering how the employees used to decorate the walls inside.
"Not everybody did that," she said, adding that the store was always clean and orderly.
"I pride myself on having a pristine store," Kennedy said.
"We had a lot of good loyal customers," Deck said, "and they would come in week after week."
"It was always a nice place to work," Ferrucci added. "There are a lot of good memories."
Other closing workers with longevity in the store and company are Donna Iervoline, 40 years; Lori Hairhoger, 31 years; Ann Fernandez, 35 years; Cheryl Sorbo, 31 years; Charlene Losten, 33 years, and Regina Palkovitch, 17 years.
Losten was a human resources manager and had been an assistant manager at the Neshannock store.
Palkovitch was the jewelry manager for 15 of her 17 years, and she saw a lot of good quality bling come and go.
"We did have some nice, nice jewelry," she said.
When it was announced that the store was closing, customers went in crying, Palkovitch said.
"People I've never seen in my life were coming in and hugging me, and they hugged everyone else, too," she said. "One nice man came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, 'I'm sorry you're losing your job.' That's the first time I got emotional about it."
Bob Bowen, the store liquidator, had previously worked for Kmart for 38 years. He was there Monday moving out some of the remaining fixtures.
"Most of this will just get recycled," he said. "It's all pretty old, anyway."