In contrast to its discount image, in the mid-sixties at least, the opening of a new Kmart could arguably be considered a town status symbol. Adding an average 35 stores per year at the time, Kresge would step up its pace even more as that tumultuous decade rolled on, tallying nearly 60 new Kmarts a year by 1970. Development was particularly heavy in the southern and western states, where Kresge had virtually no presence prior to 1960. The company continued to open a small number of new Kresge stores (only 2 in 1965, for example), but by then the writing was clearly on the wall, and all significant resources were plowed into the Kmart program. Surprisingly, a number of the Jupiter stores (a format that was developed to “ride out” the leases of fading Kresge stores) did well, and Kresge found itself in the unexpected position of signing new leases for those locations. Kresge also lost its founder during this period. Sebastian Spering Kresge passed away at the ripe old age of 99 in October 1966, having lived to see Kmart's initial triumphs.
During 1965, Kresge bought out two of Kmart’s original lessees – Holly Stores, Inc., the operator of Kmart’s womens’ and girls’ clothing departments, and Dunham Stores Corporation, who ran the sporting goods departments. A few years later, Kresge would combine the sporting goods and automotive supplies groups into a wholly-owned subsidiary called Kmart Enterprises.
As several of the photos show, Kmart heavily promoted their own private label goods, and many of them became respectable sellers. I vividly remember the first branded Kmart item I owned, a set of 10 (or so) magic markers (the package referred to them as “Water Colors”) in the familiar teal and gold Kmart packaging. My brother and I treated them like prized possessions. That was until we kept leaving the caps off, and one by one they dried out…
The first photo, from 1964, shows the majestic Rocky Mountains looming behind a Denver Kmart (with lots of room to expand!), with a nice snow cover over all. Following are five interior views from 1966, showing a service desk, always front and center in Kmart stores, a toothpaste display (lab tested!), a display of Mattel “Cheerful Tearful” dolls, and one of telescopes (must’ve been a popular featured item in discount stores back then) and lastly a typical supermarket aisle. Below is a nifty 1964 Kmart ad heralding the second Fresno, California store. This ad is interesting in that it shows the geographic distribution of the earliest Kmarts, although the stores are listed in alphabetical order by city, not chronological order.