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Detroit’s non-automotive heritage: The story of S. S. Kresge and Kmart

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People know that Detroit is the Motor City but few think about Detroit’s other industrial leaders. When it comes to retailing, Sebastian Spering Kresge would definitely deserve a place in Detroit’s business hall of fame.

Kresge was a retail pioneer starting as a traveling salesperson calling on the F. W. Woolworth stores. Kresge liked the format of the stores and felt he could improve on the five and ten cent store concept. Along with another five and dime maverick, John McCrory, an investment was made for the first S. S. Kresge store in 1897. They would incorporate two years later with a store in downtown Detroit and a second in Memphis.

Kresge’s $8,000 investment would grow over the years as his stores grew exponentially. By the 1960’s Kresge’s company would experiment with a new retail concept by opening the first Kmart store. Kmart would grow into the nation’s largest retailer with operations in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. At its peak it also owned specialty retailers including Office Max and The Sports Authority.

Kresge’s family ran the retailer but as the Kmart concept took over the family slowly backed out of the operation of their retailer. A string of bad decision would lead to the company’s bankruptcy filing in 2001. Captured in the book “Kmart’s Ten Deadly Sins” chronicles these mistakes that allowed Walmart to take over as the nation’s and world’s largest retailer.

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