Ah, the seventies. An era of taste and refinement. Of subtlety and style. And no place was better to outfit that style than Kmart. I believe that these Kmart scenes from the early and mid seventies capture the essence of that era as well as any photo, retail or non-retail, that I’ve ever seen.
Up first is a great early evening photo, from 1973, of the standard seventies Kmart exterior, followed by three very busy, slightly more recent interior shots, showing a virtual sea of 70’s humanity. In the first interior photo, the snack bar can be seen at the left rear of the store. And no, that’s not Ashton Kutcher with his back to the camera, this was the real seventies. The third and fourth photos show checkout area scenes.
By the middle of the decade, one of the burning questions in retail revolved around Kmart and whether their sales would surpass those of Sears, Roebuck and Co. By late 1976, Kmart had pulled past number two JCPenney, with $100 million more in sales and 70 percent higher profits than that well respected company. Another factor that didn’t escape notice was the increasing contrast of Kmart’s success with the troubles of their direct competitors, including some big national and regional discounting names – Grants, Interstate Department Stores (Topps and White Front), Arlan’s, Mammoth Mart and National Bellas Hess, to name just a few who were either out of business by then or were in bankruptcy reorganization. Within a few years, all would be gone.
In 1974, having established Kmarts in most major markets, Kresge launched a second Kmart format which they internally called the “Group 9 stores” specifically for smaller communities who were thought to be unable to support a full-sized (average 73,000 to 96,000 square feet) Kmart. The Group 9 stores were typically in the 40,000 square feet range. Interestingly, several of the Group 9 stores were originally opened as competitors’ discount stores. Kresge was able to capitalize on the misfortunes of several chains such as those named above and convert the stores to the smaller Kmarts. In 1977, the company would change its name from S.S. Kresge Company to Kmart Corporation, an acknowledgment that over 90 percent of their sales were coming from the Kmart stores.
Here are a few video links of vintage Kmart commercials for your enjoyment. The first one comes to us courtesy of Jack, a fan of this site, who commented recently on his pilgrimage to a local Kmart, searching for remnants of the golden era. This mid-70's commercial, which has become my life’s dream to reenact, was filmed in a store that very closely resembles the one pictured above. It features about as ecstatic (and well choreographed) a reaction to a new store in town as one could possibly imagine. For the last week, I’ve been walking around the house yelling “Kmart!” at random. You’ll see why. The second one, a Christmas commercial from 1974, features the eminently singable “Kmart is your saving place” jingle in its pure original form, one that would be heard in countless alternate versions in the years that followed. The last one is from the 1980 Christmas season, part of a charming series of commercials that I remember extremely well from my youth. Sure drives home the passage of time.