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.
Be sure to add your comments in the “Leave a Reply” section at the bottom of this page
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.
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.
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 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.
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, 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.
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.
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!
To read our in-depth article on Kmart, click the logo below:
If you have any fond memories of Kresge, please leave them in the “Comments” section below
Leave a Reply