I didn’t stray too far from home at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic that gripped the world early in 2020. It wasn’t so much paranoia that kept me indoors as it was a general feeling of being suddenly disoriented – there was a toilet paper shortage, people were walking around in surgical masks and gloves, everyone freaked out when they heard a sneeze. And, okay, maybe I experienced an occasional tinge of paranoia. But by mid-March I was back on the subway, making late night trips to Midtown.
New York during this time was often described as a ghost own, an apt if hyperbolic description. Perspective matters, of course. When the Midtown of most of 2020 is framed against the Midtown of any other day pre-pandemic, then yes, it was comparatively a ghost town. It was quiet and it was nearly deserted. It was disheartening and it was fascinating. There were no Knicks or Rangers fans buzzing around the Garden; no excited throngs of shoppers ambling in and out of Macy’s; no taxi fleets in front of Penn Station. The City had indeed come to a standstill.
I zig-zagged West 33rd and 34th Streets, briefly surveying each closed deli/restaurant/gift shop I encountered. But it was the well lit, almost clinical looking, abandoned Kmart that held my attention. I had only ever been in this Kmart a couple of times, each time thinking it was awfully spacious by New York City standards. Now, empty of all its wares, it seemed massive. I peered through the glass as if I were at the zoo waiting for a white tiger to come out of hiding. This desolate, yet otherwise intact, department store simply captivated me.
I later discovered that this Kmart had closed only a week prior to my nocturnal encounter with it (photos taken May 12, 2020), and it wasn’t due to the pandemic. The closing had been announced months before as part of a string of Kmart stores being shuttered across the country due to serious financial struggles.
But somehow timely – in the most tragically appropriate way.