‘Layaway angels’ trend hits local storesLayaway angels have landed in the Twin Ports. People have been stopping in at Twin Ports Kmart stores since last week, anonymously paying off all but the last few cents on layaway bills for strangers.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Layaway angels have landed in the Twin Ports.
People have been stopping in at Twin Ports Kmart stores since last week, anonymously paying off all but the last few cents on layaway bills for strangers.
“I think it’s wonderful with the economy,” said Michelle Schachte, assistant manager at the Superior Kmart. “People who can give are giving.”
And they keep coming in, dozens of people, especially after a story ran in the Superior newspaper about the payoffs. “We have Santa Claus in here right now trying to pay off two,” Schachte said Friday. “We’re having a little trouble swiping his credit card.”
The focus is on Kmarts because they have layaways available. According to an Associated Press article that appeared in the News Tribune last week, the “layaway angel” phenomenon appears to have begun with a Good Samaritan in Michigan, then spread from coast to coast.
The stories are warming employees’ hearts, making the long hours spent in holiday retail a little easier, managers say.
One of the Superior donations came from a boy who broke open his piggy bank, Schachte said, offering $60.
It started there last Saturday, when a woman said she simply wanted to brighten the season for others. She said she was truly blessed and wanted to pass it on.
Another man said he had no one to buy gifts for this year. Most benefactors asked to pay on bills that included children’s items like clothing and toys.
When the bills are paid, store employees contact the customers. One man who stopped by to pick up his items Tuesday said he had lost his job and didn’t know how he was going to pay his layaway bill.
“He was ecstatic,” Schachte said.
Up at the Miller Hill Kmart in Duluth, about 20 anonymous donors have stopped in to pay bills for others — some paying off multiple bills at once. Assistant Manager Paul Conley said he’s never seen this kind of giving in his 32 years with Kmart.
“It’s nice to see people help people at this time of year,” he said.
Conley said one woman was in tears when she found out her bill had been paid. She wanted to know who to thank but Kmart isn’t allowed to provide any identifying information. “We told her to write a thank you to the paper,” he said.
At the Kmart in West Duluth, six people have come in to pay off items.
Kmart stores have offered a layaway option for customers for nearly four decades. Industry analysts say its layaways are considered the most customer-friendly of all the big box retail stores.
Walmart offers layaway for jewelry year-round, but this year again offered layaway for electronics and toys. Other popular stores, such as Target, do not have layaway options.
According to Walmart spokesperson Kayla Whaling, no “layaway angels” had stopped in at Twin Ports stores as of this week. But they have visited many Walmarts nationwide.
“We’re amazed,” Whaling said, that customers continue to make a difference in the lives of others. “The generosity is overwhelming.”
A number of local benefactors mentioned seeing the article or reading about the practice on the Internet, Conley said, which prompted them to join in the giving.
“We see all kinds of things this time of year,” Conley said. “You can tell,” he said, when those putting things on layaway may never be able to pay the store back.
“It’s just really super-nice to see people helping people.”
News Tribune reporter Mike Creger contributed to this report.