Encyclopedia Of Detroit

S.S. Kresge Company

Before discount stores, there were variety “dime stores,” called so because products sold for either a dime or a nickel. Kresge, founded in 1899, was a Detroit-born dime store where shoppers could find daily needs such as housewares, linens, clothing, school supplies, and toys.

Sebastian Spering Kresge began his dime store career as a partner of J.G. McCrory, owner of a dime store chain. The two opened stores in Detroit and Memphis. Kresge sold his interest in the Memphis store to open his own store, the S.S. Kresge store on Woodward Avenue between Grand River Avenue and State Street. Store #1 at that time was 2,000 square feet, employed 18 associates and carried 1,500 items, none costing more than ten cents.

Kresge partnered with his brother-in-law Charles J. Wilson for seven years, during which time they opened Kresge & Wilson stores in seven cities. Kresge incorporated the company in 1912 under his own name as the S.S. Kresge Company. By this time there were 85 stores valued at over $10 million. The era of “five and dimes” ended in 1917 when Kresge’s was forced to raise prices to fifteen cents, due to World War I inflation. In 1921, the company opened “green front” stores that sold items ranging from 25 cents to $1.00 (traditional Kresge stores were known as “red front” stores.)

The S.S. Kresge Company made notable contributions to Detroit architecture, specifically the Kresge Building (now the Kales Building) on Grand Circus Park, an Albert Kahn design that served as company headquarters from 1914-1930. The second headquarters, on Second Avenue at Cass Park, was world headquarters from 1930-1972 and was also a Kahn work, now owned by Wayne State University.

As one of America’s top three variety store chains, Kresge had 742 stores by its 40th anniversary in 1938, primarily in the Midwest and eastern U.S. The firm began a retail innovation in 1952 by converting their stores to a checkout operation, rather than one cashier behind each showcase. Most Kresge locations featured snack bars or luncheonettes.

In 1962 Harry B. Cunningham president of Kresge, opened the first Kmart discount store in Garden City, Michigan. Kmart stores expanded nationwide, eventually replacing Kresge stores, the last of which were sold to the McCrory Corporation by 1987. In 2004, the Kmart Holding Corporation bought out Sears, changing its name to Sears Holding Corporation in the process. The Corporation runs both stores and has battled bankruptcy over the years.

The Kresge Foundation was established by Sebastian Kresge “for the benefit of mankind” on the occasion of the company’s 25th anniversary in 1924. The foundation today continues that mission by awarding grants throughout the country to non-profits and arts organizations.



Postcard showing the Kresge's Korner store, 1913 - 2012.046.757

Main Entrance to Kresge International Headquarters, 1975 - 2008.033.156

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