Kresge – How They Became Kmart
Kresge

From Dime Stores to Discount Retail

Dime stores, also known as variety stores or five and dimes, were a familiar sight in neighborhoods and small towns across the United States in the early to mid-20th century. These small, budget-friendly retail stores offered a wide range of inexpensive items, from household goods and novelties to candy and toys. One of the most iconic dime store chains was Kresge, founded in 1899 by Sebastian Spering Kresge.

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Kresge buy tie dye t-shirts

The company, which was later rebranded as Kmart, became a household name and a major player in the retail industry. The chain was particularly popular with children and their families, who often frequented the stores in search of affordable items and treasures. Despite the decline of the dime store industry, Kresge and other similar retailers remain a fond memory for many people.

American love it or leave it hoodie

The Value of Hard Work and Penny-Pinching

Sebastian Spering Kresge was born in Bald Mount, Pennsylvania, in 1867 to Swiss-ancestry farmers. He attended Fairview Academy and Eastman Business College, paying his own way through the latter with odd jobs. Kresge worked as a deliveryman, clerk, teacher, and beekeeper before becoming a bookkeeper at a hardware store in Scranton, where he learned about the benefits of cash-only transactions.

Video: S.S. Kresge In-Store Music from the 1960s

He later became a traveling salesman for W. B. Bertels Sons & Company, selling hardware and tinware to the New England and North Central states, including to dime store chain founder Frank Woolworth.

Kresge Stores Take Shape

He invested $6,700 of his savings into a five-and-dime store in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1897, that he co-owned with former customer John McCrory. They added a second store in Detroit the following year, with Kresge eventually trading McCrory his share in the Memphis store for full ownership of the Detroit store and forming Kresge & Wilson Company with his brother-in-law Charles J. Wilson.

Kresge

Kresge partnered with his brother-in-law for seven years, opening Kresge & Wilson stores in seven cities. In 1912, he incorporated the company as the S.S. Kresge Company with 85 stores worth over $10 million.

Kresge Food Counter
S.S. Kresge Cafeteria

Restructuring and Decline

During World War I, his stores were forced to raise prices to 15 cents, leading to the end of the “five and dimes” era. In 1921, the company opened “green front” stores that sold items ranging from 25 cents to $1.00, while traditional stores were referred to as “red front” stores.

Kresge

Kresge, one of the top three variety store chains in the US, had 742 stores by its 40th anniversary in 1938, mainly in the Midwest and eastern US. By 1952, Kresge introduced a new retail innovation by converting its stores to a checkout system instead of one cashier per showcase. Most locations also had snack bars or luncheonettes.

Kresge in Hartford Connecticut
S.S. Kresge in Hartford CT

In 1962, Harry B. Cunningham, president of Kresge, opened the first Kmart discount store in Garden City, Michigan. Kmart stores eventually replaced Kresge stores with the last ones sold to the McCrory Corporation by 1987. In 2004, the Kmart Holding Corporation acquired Sears and changed its name to Sears Holding Corporation.

Kresge

Kresge Today

Sadly, Kresge stores are long gone, but their spirit lives on through Kmart. This iconic retail chain continues to be a staple in some communities across the US, offering a treasure trove of budget-friendly items. For many of us, Kresge and Kmart hold a special place in our hearts, bringing back memories of childhood adventures and the thrill of discovering hidden gems in the store aisles. While the retail industry may have changed, the nostalgia for these beloved institutions remains eternal!

Kresge 5 and 10
Kresge’s Five and Dime

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If you have any fond memories of Kresge, please leave them in the “Comments” section below

Kresge

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15 responses to “Kresge – How They Became Kmart”

  1. Eric Miller Avatar
    Eric Miller

    My grandmother worked for Kesgre and I was the Loss Prevention manager with KMart.

  2. James Avatar
    James

    I loved Kresge, they had the best soda fountain!!! Found Kmart to be very disappointing. It was never as good as the old Kresge stores.

  3. Emily McDaniel Avatar
    Emily McDaniel

    Miss my KMart. I’d like to see the logo on a tshirt, or the Blue Light Special

  4. Barry Ervin Avatar
    Barry Ervin

    When I was a kid our local shopping center had a Kresges, a Grants and a Woolworth. And we had a McCrory a mile or so away. They are all gone now, of course, but the McCrory lasted until the bitter end (the store is still there with the sign still on it, but it’s closed).

  5. Ronald Avatar
    Ronald

    I remember Kmart as the go to place for school supplies and new school clothes as a child. I can still smell the inside of a metal lunch box with one of my favorites as the theme.

  6. Damika Crenshaw Avatar
    Damika Crenshaw

    I loved Kmart as a kid! They had some of the coolest clothes

  7. Tom Carr Avatar
    Tom Carr

    My first Store Manager position for K-Mart was an S.S. Kresge store in Superior, Wisconsin. Sebastian Kresge signed the original lease for it in 1912.

  8. Oliver Corkran Avatar
    Oliver Corkran

    The BEST retail stores with so much to offer. All gone now and I still have products I bought there. Lol, lunch was always tasty and left with one or more of their subs. Some KMarts were 24 hour stores where I live. NO store can be better today…but they ran the big K out of business. Blue light specials..let’s check it out

  9. James Mahon Avatar
    James Mahon

    Face reality. Kresge disappeared because corporate could make more money selling a wider variety of items as Kmart. Kmart killed itself by going from a discount chain to selling higher priced designer lines like Jaclyn Smith clothes and Martha Stewart products. They opened the door for Wal-Mart to run them out of business. Buying Sears simply put Sears out of business quicker.

  10. Vicki Brindley Avatar
    Vicki Brindley

    I miss Kmart!!🥲

  11. Pam Avatar
    Pam

    I loved my Kresge–Highland Park Michigan. This was my first job in 1969 when I was 17; I still maintain wonderful friendships with some co-workers; and I will always remember the fun we had with each other and customers alike!!!

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