In 1899, entrepreneur Sebastian Spering Kresge opened the first S. S. Kresge Store in Detroit. That store would be the start of a chain that expanded to hundreds of locations all across the U.S. and Canada. When the first Kresge stores opened, no item was priced higher than 10 cents, which is how the popular name “dime store” evolved.
In 1962, the company opened the first Kmart, a discount department store, in Garden City, Michigan, also the start of an extensive chain.
The Kresge Company undertook some of its major expansion in the 1920s, and that is when it established a presence in Vincennes.
The first S. S. Kresge store in the city opened at 226 Main St. on Nov. 3, 1922. Kresge’s extensively renovated what had been the Burchfield department store (the latter moved to Fourth and Main streets). This Kresge’s was a 5, 10 and 25 cents store. The company’s original policy of limiting prices to a dime had changed at the time of the First World War because of increasing costs.
Kresges carried candy, jewelry, toilet articles, handkerchiefs, toys, stationery, hardware, tinware, glassware, and much more. The company was able to keep prices low because of its buying power.
Just six years later, on Dec. 5, 1928, S. S. Kresge opened a second store in Vincennes, this one on the next block at 301 Main St. (the southeast corner of Third and Main), where the Duesterburg & Kramer Rexall Store had been located. The Kresge Company acquired that property earlier in the year, and the building was razed that summer, with a new two-story brick structure erected in its place. This Kresges was a 25 cent to $1 store.
It was typical for a community to have two Kresge stores, each with a different price point. The higher priced stores had a green front, distinguishing them from the lower priced Kresge stores, which had a red front.
The new store opened just in time for the Christmas shopping season. It had 60 employees. Carl Watres was the store’s first manager.
Chain founder Sebastian S. Kresge himself passed through Vincennes on Dec. 9, 1935 and briefly visited both stores.
In January 1961, the Kresge store at 226-228 Main St. closed and the building was torn down. A new Kresges store was built in its place, opening on Feb. 15, 1962. Charles Shingler was manager. While that store carried 5 cent to $1 items, it also sold department store type merchandise, including televisions, electrical appliances, power tools, lawn mowers, furniture, and outdoor grills, among many other products.
Some grand opening prices were: aluminum lawn chairs, $3.33; electric toasters, $6.96; electric drills, $8.97; and transistor radios, $12.88.
After the opening of the new store, the Kresges at 301 Main St. closed and what was then Duesterberg’s Rexall Drug Store, owned by William Duesterberg, moved back in.
The big new S. S. Kresge store had a popular luncheonette that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Both booth and counter seating accommodated 31 customers. The kitchen was in the basement and food was brought up via a dumbwaiter. For the store’s grand opening, the luncheonette offered a complete turkey dinner for 65 cents. Diners could add a piece of spicy pumpkin pie with whipped topping for 20 cents extra. A breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee cost 29 cents.
Kresge stores were also known for their candy counters. In March 1962, the new Vincennes Kresge offered a special for customers who had a sweet tooth. Those who purchased a pound of chocolate covered peanuts for 69 cents could get a pound of jellied gum drops for a just a penny.
Sebastian Kresge died at the age of 99 in 1966, just a few years after the new Vincennes store opened.
The 226 Main St. Kresge store closed in June 1975. The reason for the closing was the fact that a Kmart had opened at Hart Street and the U.S. 41 bypass, exactly a year earlier, in June 1974. Since Kresge owned Kmart, the company didn’t see the need to continue operating two stores in Vincennes. Tresslar’s moved into the former Kresge building.
The Kresge name was changed to Kmart Corp. in 1977. Ironically, it was the rise of discount stores such as Kmart that led to the demise of the company’s own Kresge stores. The final Kresge store, located in Canada, closed in 1994.
Of course, Kmart later faced its own competition, and encountered financial difficulties. The local Kmart closed in May 2009.
Brian Spangle can be reached at email@example.com.