Thursday, April 17, 2008


From the tail end of the 60’s well into the early 80’s, my family and I often shopped at Kmart. (In my case, the one at Algonquin and Golf Roads in Arlington Heights, Illinois. A Lowe’s now sits on that site.) I was always intrigued by a small, fluorescent light red sticker with black type that read “Remember…TYFSAK!” that seemed to be on every cash register in the store, right next to the numeric display. Tyfsak?! What in the world is that? For me, it became the Great Mystery of Kmart. Somehow, eventually, the nickel dropped and I figured out that it stood for “Thank you for shopping at Kmart”, the phrase all conscientious Kmart checkers exclaimed at the end of every successful transaction. Guess I could have asked, but that would have taken all the fun out of it.

The photo above is of a Detroit-area Kmart, Christmas season 1965, when Kmart was beginning to knock the traditional retail world back on its heels.


  1. Huh. This is a really original (and interesting!) idea for a blog.


  2. I remember the little "island" deli in the Kmarts that had slush puppies and deli stuff, ancient hot dogs--

  3. peterb; Which deli style your Kmart had is a regional/era thing I bet. All the Kmart deli's I saw in the 60's/70' when I was growing up in the South were seperate rooms in the back of the store. Here in the Pacific NW in the 80's/90's were (before the disappeared entirely) along the front of the store across from the cash registers.

    One interesting Kmart observance - I was in our local one the other week, and it seems to me that the workforce there is rapidly graying. I saw no employee younger than their mid 30's and many were much older.

  4. .....the smell of those awful 3/$1 hoagies

  5. What happened to Kmart??? When i was growing up this is where EVERYONE shopped. It was the Walmart of its day. I still shop there a lot because it isn't too far from me but it still is no where near what it used to be.

    BTW, there are many young employees at the one I usually shop in.

  6. Emily - Thanks! Please come back and visit more!

    Pat - I love night shots, whenever I can find 'em. Besides looking cool, it's much easier to identify interior details.

    Peter - I don't remember the islands in the Chicago area stores, but several had snack bars in the back of the store.

    Derek - That's interesting about the older staff. I would almost assume that those folks had been with the store a long time. It wouldn't seem to be a popular mid-career move.

    Traveler - 3 for a buck? Must've been tiny sandwiches!

    Didi - I remember when Kmart definitely was the Walmart of its day. They were everywhere you went. They still have some heavier concentrations in some areas, yours must be one of them. I travel quite a bit, and from what I've seen they sure seemed to have disappeared from the landscape, even compared to only five years ago.

  7. Didi - Kmart made the same mistake Sears did, they tried to chase their customers upscale... leaving their traditional demographic ripe for WalMart's picking. They tried to compete against Target (and to a lesser extent Sears) and got beaten badly because of their longstanding image a cheap lower class place.

    Dave - Kmart shuttered a lot of stores over the last few years during the bankruptcy and restructuring.

  8. Yea, there are still at least two not far away from me. The one closest to my parents (on Lincoln & McCormick) shuttered five years or so ago and another one that also wasn't far from them on Peterson was also closed and is now a Target. Ironically the Lincoln & McCormick one was inherited from Zayre after they shut down in the 80s (Before Zayre it was Shopper's World and Community Discount) and the Peterson one was a Venture before they went under and Kmart converted a few of their old locations. I was told by a friend that before the Peterson location was Venture it too was also a Zayre.

    In suburban Cleveland they used to be all over the map. Last time I was there last year I do not recall seeing even one as the one I believe my parents frequented in Euclid has long been abandoned. I remember once as a kid, a brand new Kmart was opening somewhere (I don't recall where in suburban Cleveland) and my father was eager to go to the grand opening. It was the mid 80s, night time and cold and my mother didn't even want to get out of the car saying it was no different then any other Kmart they had been to. She stuck to her guns and I had to wait in the car for my dad to come back. LOL!

  9. The old Kmart in Boise on Americana Blvd. looked exactly like that.
    The Deli was in front and they had music on a reel to reel tape player
    at the customer service desk.

  10. Derek - Moving upscale, as we discussed with Sears, usually proves to be a mistake. Too many good customers get left behind that aren't replaced. One thing that sticks out in my memory is the series of commercials they ran in the mid-90's using their CEO (also usually a mistake unless it's Lee Iacocca), Joseph Antonini. Joe's tag line was "The quality you need at the low price you want". I thought this a bit patronizing and not necessarily true. People haven't shopped much at Kmart over the last decade unless they "need" a low price. There haven't really been other compelling reasons. Maybe introducing the Sears brands will help to an extent.

    Didi - I guess one reason Kmart hangs in there in Chicago is that Wal-Mart really doesn't have much presence within the city limits. I've seen a number of news stories about city council resistance to the size stores Wal-Mart wants to build. I'm assuming there's still a pretty big impasse there.

    What did your dad think of the new Kmart? Was it worth braving the cold? :)

    Also, that Shoppers World opened around 1964.I have a photo of it I'll need to post one of these days.

    Nick - I agree!

    Anonymous - Thanks for those details on the Boise store.

  11. You definitely must post that photo of Shopper's World! It would be great to get a look at what they place looked like 40 years ago.

    The city council recently rejected a proposal for Walmart's second location on the south side. Alderman opposition around here to Walmart is pretty strong so i don't think much will happen anytime soon. I think you assertian about why Kmart still has a presence here is correct. Although target has opened up numerous stores within the city limits so I believe that may hurt them as well.

    And no it was not worth braving the cold. My dad came back empty handed.

  12. Didi, it seems by the mid-80's KMart's new stores were bland and predictable and Zayre, Hill's and Ames were nearing the end of their run. Wal-Mart was making a massive expansion down South were I am, and KMart was the only discounter building new stores. Even Richway was sitting by the sidelines, only to be sold along with most Gold Circle locations to Target-Hill's would acquire some Ohio GC's. Target picking up Arye-Way and Richway/Gold Circle is really what made Target the major player it has begun.

    Wal-Mart was still avoiding the larger urban areas, no Wally World's were within the inner suburbs of the ATL until around 1990-91, allowing Target to get a head start there. Atlanta was one of KMart's largest divisions until the Bankruptcy, having had few closures in the region until that time. Most of the 1980's and later KMart's were lost to the bankruptcy. A 1964 vintage KMart still operates near the infamous "Big Chicken" KFC in suburban Marietta, though it has had a horrible Big KMart remodel and is long past its prime. It likely gained some life when Wal-Mart moved closer to the vintage skylighted Richway/Target about 3 years ago.

  13. Funny you brought that up, Anonymous considering Gold Circle was very much like an early Target so Target capturing the locations fit perfectly well.

  14. Ahhh I used to love thee...actually, funny story about Kmart.

    My Uncle worked at our local Kmart in his 20's and met his first wife working there after his fiance died.

    And...also made friends with a guy working there at the same time...15 years later...said guy steals Uncles first wife...

    4 years after...Uncle working at same Kmart again as a subcontractor for a janitorial service... he met his current wife there while she was a layaway manager.

  15. The local K mart had this really big cafeteria style snack bar with hot food or sandwhiches...I mean like actual sit down meals like turkey and stuffing or roast beef or hot dogs and stuff and pop corn...I still remember the chocolate pudding and the giant choclate chip cookies.

    Then they tore it down and made way for an expanded shoe section, an stuck a greasy nasty little cesars pizza up by the front door.

    The other Kmart near me had the front end deli converted to little cesars.

    I loved that original Kmart logo! I was so sad to see it go. I worked at Kmart for a summer in 1998...ugghhg the fitting rooms were atrocious...and HOT with no fan and all the smelly sweaty people trying on clothes...I purposely got fired...I could'nt stand was just starting to go down hill and now its just Junk thrown everywhere.

  16. Anonymous - Very well said, and that's an interesting bit of background on Target's growth by acquisition. Blandness has been the death of many a chain, and it's ironic that some of the older Atlanta Kmarts have survived those that came later. The one in Marietta is one of the very oldest Kmarts. Wasn't there also a Woolco on Roswell Rd. near the Big Chicken?

    Amanda - Priceless story about your Uncle and how Kmart was a "turning point" in his life, more than once!

    Those Little Caesars were poor replacements for the good old Kmart cafeterias, I definitely agree.

    My wife worked briefly at a Kmart way back when (late 80's) before we were married, and your experience there sounds a lot like hers!

    And I'm totally with you on the logo. The original was a true classic.

  17. Any idea where this Kmart was? It sure looks like the one where I grew up, Garden City, MI. That was the location of Kmart #1, the first ever. It's still there, but doesn't look like this anymore.

  18. I don't really know for sure. It may have been Garden City, but many 1st generation Kmarts had the exact same look. Thanks!

  19. Yes, Marietta had a Woolco near the Big Chicken, which can be seen from I-75, now a Burlington Coat Factory. Kmart, Grant's, Zayre, and local Richway all had far more stores than Woolco, which was even outnumbered by JCPenney's discount/supercenter Treasure Island all of which at one time or another operated near the Cobb Parkway stretch of Marietta.

  20. Ken - My grandparents lived for years in Kennesaw, and I have a few vague memories of the pre-Town Center days in that area. I was back there recently, and that building still definitely has the "Woolco look". Atlanta was an important market for discounters. I don't know how many Treasure Island stores the area ultimately had, but I know that Penney opened four of them in the area in the same year, 1968.

  21. TYFSAK! It later morphed into TYFSOK. The 'O' was 'our', an extension of the 'associate' employee concept. I can almost hear the roar of those Class 5 NCR computer-ready mechanical registers!

    I closed the last Kresge (#423, Livonia Mall, Livonia, MI). Having closed many Kresge stores, I got to talk to customers about losing Kresge. As one would expect, senior citizens were most upset. Some stores, such as the one I helped close in Grosse Pointe, MI, were the only places in a very upscale downtown where seniors could afford to eat. Other stores, such as the one directly adjacent to the main U. of Michigan campus did exceptional business in school and office supplies.

    Long story short, Kmart had abandoned its local flexibility and stripped store management of any degree of autonomy and adopted a uniform, national merchandising strategy. At times, it seemed as if they were shooing away all intelligent members of store-level management. Kmart had hundreds of potential retail opportunities in the unique locations of many of the Kresge and Jupiter stores, but there was no room for individual store strategies in what had become a black-and-white corporation.

  22. Goggomobil - Thanks so much - it's always great to hear from those who actually worked on the front lines. You know, everything I've read has led me to believe there was no looking back for Kresge when the Kmart program began to take off, and I've felt that it was a wise move for them to put all of their eggs in that basket. Reading your comment, though, makes me wonder if they shouldn't have tried to be more cretive with the Kresge and Jupiter lines to keep more of them going on a strategic basis. Your anecdote on the Grosse Pointe store and the seniors is a touching case in point. Thanks again!

  23. As a young kid in the early 70's, I used to be a regular (with mom, of course) at the Kmart at 79th & Harlem Ave in Bridgeview, IL. This store had both the full-line sit-down cafeteria at the back of the store (with the best pumpkin pie around!), as well as a deli counter across from the Service Desk, right at the front of the store. They made sure you'd smell popcorn and see the ICEE machine as soon as you walked in the door!

    Interestingly, this store is still going strong--it's well-stocked and always pretty busy, even though there's a Wal-Mart exactly 3 miles away at 103rd & Harlem. I'd guess that this is one of the busiest in the chain. It's nice to walk through this store and not get the feeling that it could be be shuttered tomorrow without anyone even noticing.

    It was great to see Anonymous in Boise mention the open-reel store music tapes playing from the service desk. I still remember some of the music on one of these tapes used circa 1979, and also really miss the store promos included on this reel, during the "Kmart is your saving store, where your dollar buys you more" era. They also included great jingles for Fresh Look paint and Texas Steer boots. Man, I wish I could get hold of one of those tapes today--I'd be willing to buy a 10'' open-reel recorder just to listen to it!

    Thanks for allowing us to reminisce about those great years at Kmart!

  24. Rick - Thanks for the kind words, for sharing those great memories. Chicago was a very strong market for Kmart, and I'm not surprised to hear that the Bridgeview one is still doing well. And of course many of us fondly remember the "Kmart is your saving place" jingle!

  25. Oh yes... TYFSAK. Haha, I was fascinated with those stickers as well. As you say, they were on every Kmart cash register in the 60's and 70's when I was growing up... always felt like I'd seen one of the company 'secrets' when I caught a glimpse of the TYFSAK sticker.

  26. Rod - I had the same feeling, so I guess that's why it's stuck with me all these years since. Thanks!

  27. I remember the little red "TYFSAK" stickers! I think a later version was changed slightly to "TYFSOK": "Thank you for shopping OUR Kmart." I actually LIKED the cheap, aromatic hoagies at the front-of-the-store deli. If that was the "blue light special" when I was there, I'd have one... or two.

  28. I worked at a Kmart in the '80s! It was as dismal as you might imagine, but I did make a lot of friends during my time there and I was encouraged to never work in discount again -- so I think it turned out to be an overall positive experience in the long run. :)