The final address in this three-part series on the east side of the 700 block of Market Street is 706-708. For nearly fifty years at this site, the S.H. Kress & Company Five-Ten & Twenty-Five Cent Store competed against the F.W. Woolworth Company for supremacy in Chattanooga’s low-cost retail market.
Samuel Henry Kress was a native of eastern Pennsylvania. Born in 1863, he was named for an uncle who had died at Gettysburg just three weeks earlier. He became a schoolteacher, but decided to leave that profession to become a merchant. Kress followed the example of F.W. Woolworth, and went into the five-and-dime store business. He opened his first store at Memphis in 1896, and added his fifth store on November 25, 1899 when the Chattanooga location opened.
In 1904, S.H. Kress was in business at 808 Market Street. Thomas A. Snow, mentioned in last week’s article for his stove business at 710 Market Street, also occupied the 706 building and sold glassware. In 1905, Mr. Snow consolidated his breakable brands with his durable ones at the 710 store, while S.H. Kress moved into 706-08. Kress generally leased its properties on a long-term basis, as was the case with the Chattanooga store.
Kress remodeled its store in 1924 to include the company’s logo – the raised letters “KRESS” forming an arch at the top of the building. A brick façade was added which was in an art deco style. Many of the Kress buildings around the country, and even overseas in Hilo, Hawaii, are still recognized for their architectural style.
The S.H. Kress stores specialized in all of the gadgets and supplies which supported the keeping of a home – needles and thread, kitchen tools, towels, and cleaners. In my research, I was unable to find newspaper advertisements for S.H. Kress across the decades. Apparently, Kress relied on its mere downtown presence and merchandise to attract customers.
Kress left us a photographic treasure through the postcards and local pictorials which it published. Several of the famous postcards of Chattanooga were published by Kress, as were souvenir booklets sold at local reunions of Civil War veterans. After he had become successful in business, Samuel H. Kress began to collect art, and was one of the initial benefactors of the National Gallery of Art.
In 1954, S.H. Kress left its 706 Market Street address for a new, larger building in the 800 block of Market Street, extending through to Cherry Street. At a time when suburban shopping centers were being planned, this was a bold, ambitious move on the part of the company. The ladies’ clothing chain store, Mangel’s, followed Kress at the 706 Market address.
S.H. Kress had many successful years at its new Market Street store before closing in the 1980’s. I remember that in 1982, Kress sold a hit of the World’s Fair – the deely-bopper headgear which consisted of various shapes affixed to long springs. Kress was also among the discount retailers which sold deeply-discounted close-out record albums, tapes, and 45’s, which were always great as gag gifts.
Today, Miller Plaza occupies the site of the last Kress store in Chattanooga. As for the 706 Market Street building, Sav-A-Dollar moved there following a 1975 fire at its 613 Market Street address which was next door to competitor Scottie’s, a discount health and beauty products store. The Downtown Mart, which specializes in wigs, has been open in the 706 Market Street building since at least 1990. The Downtown Mart is one of few retailing survivors in the east side of the 700 block of Market Street. Today, the 700 block awaits its next Dr. Edwin C. Anderson, Dr. Louis Prosterman, Thomas A. Snow, Woolworth, Eckerd, or Kress.
If you have memories of S.H. Kress at any of its locations, or of the other retailers which were mentioned, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.