S. H. Kress & Co.
Samuel H. Kress opened his first "stationery and notions" store in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania in 1887. The chain of S. H. Kress & Co. 5-10-25 Cent Stores was established in 1896. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century Kress stores were a familiar sight on "Main Street" in hundreds of cities and towns.
In 1964 Genesco, Inc. acquired ownership of Kress. The company abandoned its center-city stores and moved to the shopping malls. Genesco began liquidating Kress and closing down the Kress stores in 1980.
Tiendas Kress, the subsidiary chain in Puerto Rico, survived the parent company and is still in business there. The Kress Foundation, a philanthropic organization promoting art, was established by Samuel H. Kress in 1929 and also survives the parent company.
The company's exclusion of African Americans from its lunch counters made Kress a target for civil rights protests during the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins, along with Woolworth's, Rexall and other national chains. In Nashville, Tennessee, Kress repeatedly refused to serve the protesters but eventually agreed to integrate the downtown store in exchange for ending a consumer boycott. The Greensboro, North Carolina Kress was included in the first civil rights demonstrations in the South. The Kress store in Baton Rouge was the site of that city's first civil rights sit-in, which event helped save it from the wrecking ball 45 years later.
It should be noted that the lunch counter demonstrations occurred after Mr. Kress' death - he died in 1955, and the chain of stores was sold to Genesco in that year. Equally important, is the fact that Mr. Kress helped hundreds of skilled craftsmen and their families escape from Nazi tyranny in Europe during the 1930s and early 1940s. These skilled craftsmen - many of whom were Jewish, helped construct his distinctive stores and his beautiful mountain top estate and training center (for young store managers) in Whittier, North Carolina. That estate today is a bed and breakfast lodging.
And, although he grew up Jewish, when Kress moved to Whittier, North Carolina, he converted to Baptist and built the town an elementary school. One of the reasons he chose the mountain top setting for his lodge, was that one of his nephews suffered from asthma, and the healthy location was beneficial to him.
The Kress chain was known for the fine architecture of its buildings. "Samuel H. Kress... envisioned his stores as works of public art that would contribute to the cityscape." A number of former Kress stores are recognized as architectural landmarks and many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the 1913 building on Canal Street in New Orleans (now the New Orleans Ritz-Carlton) and the 1929 neoclassical store in Asheville, North Carolina.
Notable Kress architects include Seymour Burrell, who studied in New York with architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray, and Edward Sibbert, who designed more than fifty Art Deco S. H. Kress & Co. stores between 1929 and 1944.
Sibbert's buildings streamlined the Kress image with a sleek buff modernity, the lavish use of terracotta ornament, and strong verticals supporting the golden letters “Kress”. Curved glass display windows led the shopper through heavy bronze doors into an interior of rich marbles, fine woods, and large customized counters set crosswise down a long sales floor. Well-positioned hanging lamps created a bright atmosphere for an endless array of inexpensive items (there were 4,275 different articles on sale in 1934). Everything – from the constantly restocked merchandise to the gracious retiring rooms and popular soda fountain in the basement – encouraged customers to linger. Like the great movie houses of the day, the dime store – and ‘Kress’s’ in particular – was a popular destination during hard economic times.
A seven-story marble structure designed for every shopping comfort, its Art Deco elegance was graced by airborne Mayan gods on the sales floor and Mayan-style hieroglyphs of the gloves and padlocks and yard goods for sale. Awarded a gold medal for architectural quality, the store represented the zenith of the Kress empire in luxury, modernity, and retailing capacity.
The downtown Kress store in Greensboro, North Carolina is an excellent example that shows the chain's use of elaborate exterior details including coats-of-arms, metal work, and inlaid artistic flourishes on the keystones and corners.
The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. holds a permanent collection of Kress building "records, including thousands of drawings and photographs relating to the design, construction, and operation of more than 200 stores stretching from New York to Hawaii."
Reuse of Kress buildings
Kress buildings around the country have seen a resurgence of reuse. The historic 1936 Kress building in downtown Fort Worth, Texas leases residential and office space. The Kress building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana was scheduled to be demolished but was spared in 2005, and has been renovated for residential use.
The fourth Kress store built on Main St. in Memphis, Tennessee is now the conference center for the adjoining SpringHill Suites hotel, and the Kress store on 5th Avenue in downtown Nashville, Tennessee is now two loft complexes called Art Avenue Lofts and Kress Lofts.
In July 2008, The Kress Hollywood nightclub and restaurant opened for a few years in the Kress building on Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles, California. This former Kress store, built in 1934, served as the flagship Frederick's of Hollywood boutique for 59 years.
The Greensboro, North Carolina former Kress building now houses TAVO Restaurant & Tavern, an office area along with a nightclub on the basement level and an entertainment area on the roof.
The Kress IGA Supermarket, Kress Hollywood, and Kress Cinema differ from many other re-purposed Kress locations due to their prominent use of the Kress name and logo as a component of the branding of the business.
In March 2010, The Kress Ultra Lounge nightclub and Da Boyz Italian Cuisine opened in the Kress building in downtown Yuma, Arizona on Main Street.
In Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii, a former Kress store has been renovated into Kress Cinema, a downtown movie theater.
The Kress building in Columbia, South Carolina has been renovated to into apartments with first floor restaurant and office space.
Key West, Florida's Kress Building, located at 500 Duval Street, was home to the eccentric department store Fast Buck Freddie's from 1977 until 2013. The interior is now being renovated into a CVS drugstore.
The Kress building Wichita, Kansas is now called the Kress Energy Center. This Kress Building is considered the best example of neo-gothic commercial architecture in Wichita. It is listed on city, state, and national registers of historic places.
- List of S. H. Kress and Co. buildings
- Kress Building
- S. H. Kress and Co. Building (Daytona Beach, Florida)
- Kress Building (Fort Worth, Texas)
- The Kress Legacy. The Kress Foundation
- Nashville Student Movement (1960-1964). Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- First Southern Sit-in, Greensboro NC. Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- "Salvation Stories." 225BatonRouge.com
- S. H. Kress & Company Collection. National Building Museum
- Thomas, Bernice L. (1997). America's 5 & 10 Cent Stores: The Kress Legacy. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-18195-1
- S. H. Kress & Co. Stores. The Kress Foundation
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