Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Kmart's Mid-Sixties Ascent

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.


  1. It's funny how back then Kmart's return policy was basically two sentences, compared to the narrative they have now. How times have changed!

    I also didn't know the Danville (Va.) Kmart was either the first or second in the state. Like, I've mentioned before, it's still there, still busy, and the old design is still easily identifiable.

  2. Steven, I think simpler was definitely better. There will always be a few who try to misuse a return policy, but to me, a simple sentence reflects higher confidence on the retailer's part in the quality of their goods.

    That's cool that the Danville store is still going strong!

  3. Of all the southern california stores, the only one still in operation as a Kmart is Commerce. Its been remodeled several times, and actually does very well. Oddly enough, the same shopping center has a Target in it.

    1. hemet and 4371 santa maria ca

  4. I loved their chicken & noodles. Their submarine sandwiches were good, too. I rememer the Icee drinks. Or, was that Slurpee ?

  5. Status of the Kmart Locations in Southern California:

    14701 Rinaldi St. San Fernando, CA
    Closed and demolished.

    5440 Beach Blvd. Westminster, CA
    Closed. Building remodeled. Don't know whats there today.

    5704 E. Whittier Blvd. Commerce
    Still open. Smallest Kmart I've been in. Still has original blue tile in entry ways.

    2200 Harbor Blvd. Costa Mesa
    Still open. I was wrong. Heavily Remodeled but you can see where the Kmart Foods was next to it.

    9400 Central Ave. Montclair, CA
    Closed and demolished a few years back. Visible next to I-10. Now a Costco. Used to show up on Live Local but no more.

    Santa Ana, CA
    I have no idea where this store was. The only one that I knew was on Harbor in Santa Ana. This was a former Zodys. I am thinking that the Santa Ana location may have moved here around the late 80's.

  6. I clearly remember those 'slushie' drinks being the ICEE kind.

    I also thought long ago they were a K-mart related thing...after all, their logo also used the same red / blue colors of K-mart's 'classic' logo, and I didn't see ICEE machines anywhere else but K-mart.

    1. kmart only icee was and in the deli only not the cafeteria everything was based on blue light special (kmart employee 1978-1988)

  7. Shame on you, Dave, didn't your mother ever tell you and your brother to always remember to put the caps back on the poor markers. LOL!

  8. Kmart is still "The Savings Place". Compared to Wal*Mart and yuppie shoppers of Target Kmart has retained the true "discount store" feel. A few times Ive driven to Pleasant Hill,CA (about 20 miles from home) just to get the Kmart experience and savings;)

  9. Jeff - Thanks for the update on the Southern California stores. It's absolutely amazing that Kmart has such a minimal presence in that vitally important market. I wonder if the Commerce store was one of the "bantam" Kmarts. Would you guess it's under 40,000 square feet?

    Maxine - They were Icees. Slurpees were strictly a 7-Eleven product. Thanks for stopping in, and I like your blog!

    Matt - Where I grew up, it seemed like Kmart was by far the biggest seller of Icees.

    Didi - It sure wasn't her fault! My own kids are paying me back on that one, with all the markers we've had to buy in the last few years! :)

    Charles - Quite a few Kmarts have the old-time look and feel, that's for sure. I'm not sure the store managers are thrilled about that, though!

  10. Here's a update on both Fresno stores which both closed in 2002

    NorthGate Center
    5355 N. Blackstone:

    Closed then demolished to make way for a new store for Circuit City after they outgrew its small first store.

    EastGate Center
    4850 E. King Canyon Road

    Closed for a couple of years as
    the shopping center tried to get someone to buy they old store.

    It was remodeled and now is a
    Fiesta Foods grocery store.

  11. Neat site! The Kmart in the middle of a snowy field is actually in Colorado Springs, not Denver. The building still stands, but hasn't been a Kmart for five or ten years.

  12. The Kmart in the middle of a snowy field with mountains in the background is in Colorado Springs, not Denver. (Indeed that's Pikes Peak!) The building still stands, but hasn't been a Kmart for maybe ten years.

  13. Dave,

    I see that you mentioned KMART Branded products. Even though I am only 35, I too remember KMART Branded Products. In fact the one that I personally remember the most the the KMART Branded Baseball Cards that where actually produced by Topps.