“Martha Stewart sells faster than homosexuals,” said a charming salesperson named Calvin as he vigorously restocked Martha’s shelves on the second floor of the Astor Place Kmart.
I knew our Domestic Goddess was popular, I thought, contemplating the purchase of an insanely chic Martha Stewart Everyday plastic tortoise-shell bathroom set (Kleenex cover, $9.99; beaker, $4.99; and trash bin, $14.99)-but who knew she was that popular?
“Yeah, homosexuals is good, but Martha is better,” reiterated the helpful Calvin.
I was trying to decide whether this was a positive or negative comment on Martha’s whopping empire when my eye caught the logo of a rival brand on a neighboring shelf that read “Home Essentials.”
Memo to me: get hearing checked.
As a card-carrying home-essential of long-standing, I have recently been struck by the number of stylish folks-gay and straight-who have rushed out of their well-organized closets to show support for Kmart. When the 2,114-store chain declared bankruptcy on Jan. 22, the largest retail bankruptcy in U.S. history, a surprising number of modish Manhattan types ‘fessed up to a Kmart-or more specifically, a Kmartha-dependency. And it’s not just about zippered moth-proof bags for their pashminas.
“Martha’s a total genius!” shrieked screenwriter Andrea King. “Those mini-ice-cube trays the size of a gumball-perfect for martinis!” ($1.99 for a set of two.)
Andrea’s favorite purchase? “I found the fiercest, chicest toolbox on the planet. It’s clear plastic-milky-it’s got three layers and a silver plastic handle. It’s my Martha Stewart purse-girly but practical.” (It’s $12.99.)
In New York, Kmart is the place where media execs buy their Martha hangers alongside housewives buying 50-pound bags of Goldfish: It’s the great retail equalizer. And-surprise, surprise-these middle-class groovers are not slumming for a hit of reverse chic: They are sincerely appreciative of the amazing value and quality that Martha offers. But will it last?
Appearing on Larry King Live last month, Martha herself said, “We have been working with Kmart for 15 years, Larry. It’s pretty hard to run out on a partner that’s down. You know, that’s not our style. But there are lots of possibilities for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and we’re weighing all of our opportunities right now.”
This post-01/22 uncertainty has caused a wave of panic buying among the cognoscenti.
Even glamorous shelter-magazine design connoisseurs like Elle Décor editor in chief Margaret Russell are waxing rhapsodic and praying for Kmart’s survival. “I fell in love with these blue plates at one of our events,” said the Hachette dynamo. “When I found out they were Martha Stewart, I went straight to the Kmart in Bridgehampton.” (Available in “white, straw, hydrangea and arbor blue,” a set of four dinner plates is $12.99.)
Ms. Russell fell in love with Martha’s linens, too. “Especially the hop-sack towels-great for guests.” Good-looking, approachable Margaret also adores the whip-stitched blankets ($24.99) and considers the scalloped pillow cases ($14.99) “good enough to mix in with my Frette.”
House & Garden editor Dominique Browning is a reluctant addict. “The Kmarts I have visited have been mostly disastrous-merchandise in bad shape, surly help if you can find it. That sort of thing. But I do like the dishware,” said Ms. Browning, she of the gorgeous space-alien blue eyes. “It is sturdy, simple, the colors are nice. And the dinnerware makes an impressively practical gift: looks lavish, doesn’t cost a fortune-perfect for that sort of hapless, mostly male host who hasn’t managed to outfit the pantry but insists on entertaining.”
(I don’t know about you, but I find that “mostly male” hosts throw the best parties.)
Writer A.M. Homes is more than just a fan. “I’m also a stockholder in Martha’s company,” said the acclaimed Music for Torching author. And no one can accuse her of not being supportive. “My entire East Hampton garden-seeds and tools-is all Martha. Those light green gardening gloves with white pimples on them-they look so great I want to wear them in the city.” Indoors, however, though A.M. swears by the towels-”They’re so cheap you can use them and toss them like Bounty”-she finds the sheets to be “too sandpapery.”
Even nasal-soundbite-dispensing fashion extremist Lauren Ezersky-the un-Martha in so many ways-is kvelling. “I’m normally an ABC kind of a gal,” said the streaky-haired host of the Style Network show Behind the Velvet Ropes , “but I’m on a budget with my new place in the Springs. I’m going to get that Martha shit because it’s way cool. And I know she’s anal retentive. Nothing gets out of that factory without her eyeballin’ it.”
And what of the great and mighty Mothra Stewart herself? Is she at home in the fetal position waiting for the black clouds to pass? After all, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia gets up to one-third of its pretax profit from merchandising, which is primarily sold at Kmart. I asked the Wizardress of Westport how she might feel if she had to live without her favorite items and received the following e-mail from Martha:
“Here’s how I feel: I couldn’t live without my five-star sheets and towels, my organizing and keeping products, and my gardening tools. These, plus the housewares items that we design at MSE, are amongst the nicest and most reasonably priced products in America. Just recently I purchased 60 plastic organizing containers in different sizes to reorganize my basement at Turkey Hill. With my Everyday P-touch to make my labels, my basement looks 21st century-quite a difference from the disorganized mess it was last week. I love MSE and to not have it available for me, my friends, and the rest of the American shoppers would be a disaster, a travesty, and a black hole in the retail universe!
To the ramparts, girls! Let’s support Martha in her time of need. O.K., so she’s not exactly starving to death (Martha Stewart Omnimedia just announced it sold $1.6 billion in Martha Stewart Everyday products last year), but she cleaned up your act and gave you hop-sack towels and mini ice cubes. Now it’s time to give back. That gnarly Kmart bankruptcy could drag on and get really hideous with layoffs and store closings. Or not. It’s all up to you! Go into your local Kmart, walk straight past the Home Essentials, get your fix of special Kmartha and plunge into your very own Kmartha hole.
P.S.: Here’s a hot tip for home-essentials and anyone who loves a cymbidium: Metropolitan Home design and architecture director Linda O’Keeffe is usually to be found cruising the house plants. “Kmart potted orchids are so inexpensive,” she told me, “that you can buy armloads of them for practically nothing.” At the Astor Place store, the phalaenopsis variety in white or fuchsia is priced at $9.99.
Depressed about Kmart and the economy in general? Do what recently deceased Seventh Avenue titanette Pauline Trigère suggested:
“When you feel blue, wear red.”