Yes, this was a business trip.

This post is a long-overdue recognition of the amazing work Kmart has done to make its stores more accessible.  But perhaps I was just waiting for the opportunity to include the words — and a photo — “crocodile statue.”*

Once upon a time … yes I feel like the roots of this post are sufficiently deep in the past that it justifies that opening.  Once upon a time, there was a chain of department stores, many of which were pretty inaccessible.

{Image:  A woman in a wheelchair wheeling away from the camera down a store aisle, the sides of which are clutered with boxes and a hand-truck.}

We sued them.  A class was certified.  The company declared bankruptcy.  The company emerged from bankruptcy.  No one, including the judge, could figure out the status of the litigation.  Many motions with creative titles were exchanged.  The company hired new lawyers, then more new lawyers.  And then, finally, in 2006, the case settled.

In the settlement, Kmart undertook to survey all of its then-1,500 stores over eight years and bring them largely into compliance with the DOJ Standards.  They also committed to make rack spacing more accessible and — this  was crucial — to maintain the stores so that people who use wheelchairs could get around them.

Kmart and its team threw themselves into the project with skill and enthusiasm.  It has been a privilege to work with Lori Miller, from the general counsel’s office, and Mark Conway, from the construction side.  Although we spent days during the settlement negotiation laboring over a dispute resolution process, there has not be a single dispute that required access to that process.

OK, I’m rambling without getting to the crocodile part of the blog.

As part of the settlement process, several times each year, Mark and Tim and I travel to a city and survey three or four Kmart stores, both for the accuracy of the physical fixes and the maintenance of the fixes and the accessibility of the stores in general.  We’ve traveled to such glamor spots as Riverside, CA, and Schaumberg, IL.  This time we tossed out the idea of surveying stores in the Florida Keys and, well, here we are!

We surveyed three stores, all remodeled pretty early in the process, and found them to be very accessible.  There were, as always, a couple of notes, but we were very impressed both by the number of fixes that were being maintained and the general accessibility of the stores.  That latter feature has been a consistent source of delight when we do these surveys and when I simply enter a Kmart store:  they have taken seriously the commitment to making the store more navigable in a wheelchair, one of the primary complaints motivating the litigation.  When we started the litigation, there were many aisles in many stores that looked like the one at the top of this post.  Now that scene is very rare.

But what made these surveys especially fun was the added Florida Keys flavoring.

{Image:  orange and blue plastic kayaks displayed in front of a Kmart store.}

 

{Image:  Coral Cactus, that is, a cactus plant that is wavy and looks like coral.}

I think I’m going to order the Crocodile Statue from kmart.com.  Hope it’s still on sale!

{Image: : Cardboard packing box with the words "crocodile statue" on the outside.}

 

{Image:  A garden-sized statue of a crocodile.}

Most Kmart stores have a Garden Center; the one in Marathon — uniquely — had a Fishing Center

{Image:  Exterior of a large brick building with red letters that read "Fishing Center."}

What would be the entire garden center area of an ordinary Kmart was given over to fishing gear and — given our lead plaintiff’s love for fishing — Carrie should be happy to know it was very accessible.

{Image:  on the right side of the photo, the display racks on one side of an aisle of a Kmart store, all showing fishing gear of various types.  The left side of the photo showing a clear path down the aisle.}

 

But my favorite feature of this store was the giant ocean mural on the front.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

{Image:  close up of part of the mural showing a single teal-colored fish.}

{Image:  close up of part of the mural showing a five small teal-colored fish.}

This led to my unsolicited but genius design idea:  paint the floor of the main drive loop aisle around the store like a lazy river pool full of tropical fish!  Wouldn’t that make shopping more fun?  I did originally suggest sharks — hey, I’m a lawyer, what did you expect? — but the store manager pointed out that that might scare the kids.  Good point.  But what kid wouldn’t love to go shopping when they could walk on a stream full of tropical fish?  Imagine the fun this could be around the country:  ski slopes in Colorado; beaches in California; forest scenes in New England.  Maybe I have a future in store design!

 

***********

* Edited to correct typos.  I originally had “crocodile statute.”  Once a law nerd; always a law nerd!  (Thanks, Terri!)

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