Type Subsidiary
Industry Retail
Founded Detroit, Michigan, U.S (1899)
Founder(s) Sebastian S. Kresge
Headquarters Hoffman Estates, Illinois, U.S.
Number of locations 1,307 (2010)[1]
Area served United States
Products Clothing, linen, jewelry, housewares, tools, electronics, toys, restaurant
Revenue decrease US$ 15.593 million (2010)[1]
Parent Sears Holdings Corporation

Kmart, sometimes styled as "K-Mart," is a chain of discount department stores. The chain acquired Sears in 2005, forming a new corporation under the name Sears Holdings Corporation. The company was founded in 1962 and is the third largest discount store chain in the world, behind Wal-Mart and Target, with stores in the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam (which houses the world's largest Kmart[citation needed]). As of January 29, 2011, Kmart operated a total of 1,307 (6 closing by early 2011) Kmart stores across 49 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This store count included 1,278 discount stores, averaging 93,000 sq ft (8,600 m2), and 29 Super Centers, averaging 169,000 sq ft (15,700 m2).[2]

Kmart became known for its "Blue Light Specials." They occurred at surprise moments when a store worker would light up a mobile police light and offer a discount in a specific department of the store. At the height of Kmart's popularity, the phrase "attention Kmart shoppers" also entered into the American pop psyche, appearing in films and other media such as Troop Beverly Hills, Six Days Seven Nights, Beetlejuice, and Dawn of the Dead.

Kmart's world headquarters was located in Troy, Michigan, in a sprawling complex which, since Kmart's relocation to Illinois, has been slated for demolition.[3] Kmart also exists in Australia and New Zealand (see Kmart Australia), although it now has no relation to the American stores except in name, after U.S. equity in the Australian business was purchased in the late 1970s.



The early-1900s (built 1914) headquarters of the S.S. Kresge Company, in downtown Detroit

Sebastian S. Kresge, the founder of the company that would become Kmart, met variety store pioneer Frank Woolworth while working as a traveling salesman and selling to all nineteen of Woolworth's stores at the time.[4] In 1897 Kresge invested in two five and dime stores with his friend John McCrory; they were the first S.S. Kresge stores.[5] By 1907 Kresge had bought out McCrory. He continued in this for two years, then in 1899 founded his company with Charles J. Wilson with an $8,000 investment in two five-and-ten-cent stores, one in downtown Detroit, Michigan (for which he traded ownership in McCrory's).

In 1912, Kresge incorporated the S.S. Kresge Corporation with eighty-five stores. The company was first listed on the New York Stock Exchange on May 23, 1918. During World War I, Kresge experimented with raising the limit on prices in his stores to $1. By 1924, Kresge was worth approximately $375,000,000 (in 1924 dollars; around $5,000,000,000 in 2009 dollars[6]) and owned real estate of the approximate value of $100,000,000 (see Farid-Es-Sultaneh v. Commissioner, 160 F.2d 812 (2d Cir. 1947)). Early century growth remained brisk, with 257 stores in 1924 growing to 597 stores operating in 1929. Kresge retired as president in 1925. The Great Depression reduced profitability and resulted in store closings, with the number reduced to 682 in 1940. Post-war retailing saw many changes in shopping patterns with many customers moving out of the cities into the suburbs. The Kresge company followed them and closed and merged many urban stores so that by 1954 the total number of stores in the US had declined to 616.[citation needed]

Under the leadership of executive Harry B. Cunningham, S.S. Kresge Corp. opened the first Kmart store on March 1, 1962, in Garden City, Michigan,[7] just a few months before the first Wal-Mart opened. This store is still in operation to this day. A total of eighteen Kmart stores opened that year. Kmart Foods, a now defunct chain of Kmart supermarkets, opened in that same decade. Company founder Kresge died on October 18, 1966.[8]

Around the time of the opening of the first Kmart, a number of the poorly performing S.S. Kresge stores were converted to a new "Jupiter Discount Stores" brand, which was conceived as a bare-bones, deep discount outfit. During the 1970s, Kmart put a number of competing retailers out of business. Kresge, Jupiter and Kmart stores had their main competition from other variety chains such as Zayre, Ames, Hill's and those operated by MMG-McCrory Stores (McCrory, McLellan, H.L. Green,J.J. Newberry, S.H. Kress, TG&Y, Silver's and eventually G.C. Murphy Co.). In 1977, S. S. Kresge Corporation changed its name to Kmart Corporation. In 1987, the Kmart Corporation sold its remaining Kresge and Jupiter stores in the United States to McCrory Stores, and the brands were almost entirely discontinued, although Canadian Kresge and Jupiter stores continued to operate until 1994.

Changes for Kmart

Kmart's original logo used until 1990. This logo was also used by Kmart Australia from 1980 until 1991.

During the 1980s, the company's fortunes began to change; many of Kmart's stores were considered to be outdated and in decaying condition. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the corporate office shifted much of its focus from the Kmart stores to other companies it had acquired or created, such as The Sports Authority, Builders Square, and Waldenbooks.

In 1990, in an effort to change its image, Kmart introduced a new logo. They dropped the old-style italic "K" with a turquoise "mart" in favor of a red block letter K with the word "mart" written in script and contained inside the K. Kmart then began remodeling stores shortly thereafter, but most were not remodeled until the mid-1990s, and some have not been completely renovated to this day. This logo was replaced in 2004 with the current logo. In the early 1990s, Kmart also tried to reinvent itself by using the short-lived Today's Kmart name.

The company also began to offer exclusive merchandise by Martha Stewart, Kathy Ireland, and Jaclyn Smith. Other recognizable brands included Sesame Street and Disney. Rosie O'Donnell and Penny Marshall were among the company's most recognized spokespersons.

Kmart Super Center and Big Kmart

Big Kmart logo

Kmart Super Center (Super Kmart Center, Super Kmart or Super K) opened a 147,000 sq ft (13,700 m2)[9] location in 1991 in Medina, Ohio featuring a full-service grocery store and general merchandise. The second ground-up Kmart Super Center opened in Montrose, Ohio, featuring chain's first full-scale video rental center and a carryout Chinese menu.[10] The location is now closed. Most Kmart Super Centers range in size from 140,000 sq ft (13,000 m2) to 190,000 sq ft (18,000 m2). Current locations feature in-house bakeries, fresh meats and seafood, and a full delicatessen.[11]

Big Kmart (Big K) opened in Chicago, Illinois, on April 23, 1997. The format focuses on home fashions, children's apparel and consumables (Pantry).[11] Most Kmart stores were remodeled to this format during the 1990s and most of them have been converted back to regular Kmart stores with the new logo introduction.

Blue Light Special and 1994 closures

Kmart's red classic logo (1990–2004). It is in use at many older locations

The original Blue Light Special, first introduced in 1965,[12] was retired in 1991.[13] The company brought back the Blue Light Special in 2001, but again discontinued it in 2002. The concept was briefly revived in 2005, though Kmart at that time had no plans to use the concept long-term.[14]

Blue Light Specials were revived again in 2009 on Saturdays, offering surprise hour-long sales on selected merchandise.[12]

In 1994, Kmart closed 110 stores. Unlike its competitors Wal-Mart and Target, it had failed to invest in computer technology to manage its supply chain. Furthermore, Kmart maintained a high dividend, which reduced the amount of money available for improving its stores. Many business analysts also faulted the corporation for failing to create a coherent brand image.

Racing Sponsorships

Kmart was a prominent sponsor in NASCAR and the now defunct CART series. They were a longtime sponsor of Newman/Haas Racing, owned by actor Paul Newman and former racer Carl Haas. Their CART drivers included Nigel Mansell and the father-son duo of Michael and Mario Andretti. Mansell and Michael Andretti won championships under Kmart sponsorship, in 1991 and 1993, respectively. The store also sponsored the NASCAR-sanctioned Kmart 400 at Michigan and North Carolina Speedway. Lake Speed garnered Kmart's first win in NASCAR in 1988 at the Darlington Raceway. Most recently, in NASCAR, the store sponsored Boris Said's #60 No Fear Ford Fusion in 2006.


Kmart's lime green prototype logo that was only used at five prototype locations. The city or town's name is located at the front entrance of the stores underneath or beside this logo.

On January 22, 2002, Kmart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under the leadership of its then-chairman Chuck Conaway and president Mark Schwartz.[15] Conaway, who had had success building up the CVS Corporation, had accepted an offer to take the helm at Kmart along with a loan of some $5 million. In a scandal similar to that involving Enron, Conaway and Schwartz were accused of misleading shareholders and other company officials about the company's financial crisis while making millions and allegedly spending the company's money on airplanes, houses, boats and other luxuries. At a conference for Kmart employees January 22, Conaway accepted "full blame" for the financial disaster. As Kmart emerged from bankruptcy, Conaway was forced to step down and was asked to pay back all the loans he had taken.

While the company was in bankruptcy, Edward Lampert bought Kmart bonds for his hedge fund, ESL Investments. On May 6, 2003, Kmart officially emerged from bankruptcy protection as the Kmart Holdings Corporation and on June 10, 2003, it began trading on the NASDAQ as "KMRT". Lampert took control of the company and began to run it for profit instead of sales.

After dismissing Conaway and Schwartz, Kmart closed more than 300 stores in the United States and laid off around 34,000 workers as part of restructuring the company. Kmart introduced five prototype stores with a new logo, layout, and lime green and gray color scheme, one in White Lake Township, Michigan, a quasi-rural community near Detroit, Michigan, and four in central Illinois: (Peoria, Pekin, Morton and Washington). The new layout was touted as having wider aisles and improved selection and lighting, and the city or town's name was featured under the new Kmart logo at the front entrance. However, Kmart could not afford a full-scale rollout. The lime green prototype was abandoned for the new Kmart "orange" concept that rolled out at nine test stores throughout the United States.

Merger with Sears

On November 17, 2004, Kmart announced its intention to purchase Sears, Roebuck and Company. As a part of the merger, the Kmart Holdings Corporation would change its name to Sears Holdings Corporation. The new corporation announced that it would continue to operate stores under both the Sears and Kmart brands. Around this time, Kmart changed its logo from a red K with the script "mart" inside to a red block letter K with the chain's name in lowercase letters below it. Most Kmart stores now use this logo on their signage, with some only using the red K and the word "mart" due to space concerns. In 2005, the company began renovating some Kmart stores and converting them to the Sears Essentials format, only to change them later to Sears Grands.[16]

Kmart after the Sears Merger

A remodeled Kmart in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Kmart started remodeling stores to the "Orange" prototype in 2006. The typical white and blue interior of the stores was changed to orange and brown, and shelf heights were lowered to create better sightlines. The remodeled stores contain an appliance department with Kenmore Appliances and most have hardware departments that sell Craftsman tools, which prior to the merger had been exclusive to Sears stores.[17] Some auto centers left vacant by Penske after Kmart filed for bankruptcy have been converted to Sears Auto Centers.[18] 280 stores as of 2009 have been remodeled to this new prototype. For most of these stores, Kmart retired the "Big Kmart" logo and replaced it with the current logo. In some of the larger stores the old logo is still in use.

In July 2009, Sears Holdings opened its first Sears-branded appliance store inside a Kmart.[19] The 4,000 sq ft (370 m2) store-within-a-store opened inside the former garden department of a Birmingham, Alabama, Kmart. It is two-thirds the size of the appliance department in most Sears stores, but larger than the 2,500 sq ft (230 m2) appliance department in remodeled Kmart stores.

In October 2009, it was reported that Kmart and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia failed to come to a new agreement. This came after Stewart made remarks on CNBC that her line at Kmart had deteriorated, particularly after the Sears merger.[20]

In November 2009, Kmart reported its first year-over-year sales increase of 0.5% since 2005, and only the second such increase since 2001.[21]

Store concepts

Current store concepts

The exterior of a typical Big Kmart discount store in Ontario, Oregon. The red "K" with script "mart" pictured here was Kmart's logo from 1990 to 2004.
  • Big Kmart is a chain of discount department stores that carry everything a regular Kmart carries, but with an emphasis on home decor, children's clothing, and more food items such as meat and poultry, baked goods, frozen foods and an extended, but limited section of garden produce; however, they do not feature a bakery, a delicatessen, or fresh seafood. Big Kmart stores range from 84,000–120,000 sq ft (7,800–11,000 m2). Big Kmart stores also feature a garden center, a pharmacy, a branch of a local bank, a Jackson Hewitt tax center, an Olan Mills portrait studio, an arcade, a K-Cafe or Little Caesars Pizza station, and sometimes a Kmart express gas station. Since the merger with Sears, many stores have been rebranded as Kmart.
  • Kmart Super Center is a chain of hypermarkets that carry everything a regular Kmart carries, but also have a full grocery section with meat and poultry, baked goods, a delicatessen, garden produce, and fresh seafood. Kmart Super Center stores range from 140,000–190,000 sq ft (13,000–18,000 m2). These stores are also known as Super Kmart Center or Super Kmart. Super Center stores also feature a garden center, a video rental store, a branch of a local bank, an arcade, a portrait studio, a Jackson Hewitt tax center, a pharmacy, and usually a deli cafe or Little Caesars Pizza station. Several also include Kmart Express gas stations, and most had an auto center. 32 Kmart Super Centers are still open,[23] most having been closed during the two rounds of closures in 2002 and 2003, and 20 had their groceries taken out, converting them into Big Kmart and Sears Grand locations.[24] Some of the surviving Super Kmarts were those in regions without a strong Wal-Mart presence, including Ohio and Michigan. A typical Super Center sells around 30 million dollars of merchandise during one fiscal year. In the late 1990's and early 2000's, urban multilevel variants were opened that included two-level, 195,000 sq ft (18,100 m2) locations and three-level, 200,000 sq ft (19,000 m2) locations; these carry everything a Kmart Supercenter carries, but do not have a Kmart Express gas station and an Auto Center like most Kmart Super Centers; they do feature a Bo Rics Hair Salon, a Fifth Third Bank branch, an expanded Jackson Hewitt Tax Center, escalators, elevators, vermaports, and parking garages, which many Super Kmarts stores do not have. Most of these locations were briefly remodeled and re-branded to Sears Grand in the late 2000s.
  • K-Café is an in-store restaurant that serves a fairly standard menu of hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and such other sandwiches as grilled cheese and Philly cheesesteaks. They also offer a full breakfast menu of baked goods, bagels and egg platters with bacon or sausage and such snacks as nachos, pretzels, popcorn and ice cream. In addition to the cafe's menu, hot food items can also be purchased at the deli and eaten in the Deli Cafe at Super Kmart Center stores.
  • Kwash is an attached to store laundromat first launched in May 2010. Currently there is only one such prototype in a former auto bay located in Iowa City, Iowa. It features a separate entrance, laundromat attendants and free wi-fi along with a limited selection of laundry goods available for purchase.

Former store concepts

The exterior of a Super Kmart in Corsicana, Texas. This store is no longer in business.
  • Kmart Food Stores were a grocery store chain founded in 1962. Most Kmart Food locations were together with Kmart stores, often operated by a local grocery chain but always branded as Kmart foods. The chain was discontinued in the 1970s.
  • Builders Square was a home improvement superstore. In 1997, it was sold to Hechinger, which went out of business in 1999.
  • Borders Books is a chain of book stores acquired by Kmart in 1992. In 1994, Borders merged with the Kmart chain Waldenbooks to form Borders-Walden Group, which was sold in 1995. In 2011, Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February and announced plans to liquidate in July after failing to find a buyer to keep the chain's remaining 399 stores in operation.
  • Waldenbooks is a chain of primarily shopping mall-based book stores which was acquired in 1984. In 1994, Kmart chain Borders merged with Waldenbooks to form Borders-Walden Group, which was sold in 1995.
  • OfficeMax is a chain selling office supplies and office furniture which was acquired in 1991, and sold in 1995.
  • Office Square was a chain selling office supplies and office furniture which was a spin-off of Builders Square. In 1991, OfficeMax was acquired by Kmart and Office Square was merged into OfficeMax stores.
  • Pace Membership Warehouse was Kmart's warehouse club brand, until the chain was purchased by Wal-Mart. In 1993, Wal-Mart converted most of the stores into its Sam's Club brand, and sold others to chains such as Bradlees.
  • PayLess Drugs was a chain of drug stores acquired by Kmart until it was sold to TCH Corporation in 1994. The resulting entity, Thrifty PayLess was acquired by Rite Aid in 1996, which converted all of the PayLess and Thrifty stores into Rite Aid stores in 1999. The PayLess division also owned Bi-Mart, which was spun off along with sister stores such as Pay 'n Save.
  • The Sports Authority is a chain of sporting goods stores which was acquired in 1990 and sold in 1995.
  • American Fare was a chain of hypermarkets that first opened in January 1989. American Fare was a joint venture between Kmart (which owned 51 percent), and Birmingham, Alabama-based Bruno's Supermarkets. The first store opened near Atlanta, Georgia. American Fare’s 244,000 sq ft (22,700 m2) of retail space included 74,550 sq ft (6,926 m2) of groceries, 104,000 sq ft (9,700 m2) of general merchandise, and 35,000 sq ft (3,300 m2) of clothing (including apparel, footwear, and accessories). An area in the front of the store housed a music and video store, a food court, bank, hair salon, pharmacy and a card store. Charlotte, North Carolina, was home to the second American Fare, which opened in late 1989 with only 160,000 sq ft (15,000 m2) of retail space. A third and final store opened in Jackson, Mississippi. In June 1992, Bruno's announced that its partnership with the Kmart Corporation was being terminated, and that Kmart would assume ownership of the three stores. However, the stores were closed in the mid-1990s. The American Fare brand is used on some Kmart store brand consumable products.
  • Kmart Chef restaurants were a small chain of free-standing fast-food restaurants owned by Kmart, started in 1967 with the first location on the parking lot of a Kmart in Pontiac, Michigan. The "limited, high-turnover menu" (as Kmart founder S.S. Kresge put it) consisted of fast foods such as burgers, French fries, hot dogs, and soft drinks. The Kmart Chef chain folded in 1974 after peaking at eleven locations.[25]


Philanthropic contributions

Kmart for Kids is the umbrella program for Kmart's philanthropic initiatives. The program helps children across the country live happier, healthier lives through the support of: March of Dimes, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and American Diabetes Association.[26]

March of Dimes

Kmart is March of Dimes' number 1 corporate sponsor, raising over $71 million for stronger, healthier babies.[27][28]

On July 29, 2008, Don Germano, SVP/GM of Kmart stores, was elected to a five-year term on the national Board of Trustees of the March of Dimes Foundation.[29]

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Kmart for Kids supports St. Jude through its annual Thanks and Giving campaign: an opportunity for Kmart customers to give thanks for the healthy kids in their life, and give to those who are not. Kmart has been a partner of the campaign since 2006 and has raised more than $8 million for St. Jude to date.[30]

American Diabetes Association

In 2008, Kmart earned the "Outstanding Corporate Citizen" Award for its support of the American Diabetes Association's "Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes" program.[31] The tribute honors Kmart for the most well-developed, proactive program in the areas of charity, community Development, Diversity, philanthropy, and associate development. In 2008 Kmart became a national sponsor of "Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes" and over the past two years, Kmart's customers and associates have raised approximately $1.5 million through its in-store campaigns.

Environmental record

On May 9, 2007, Kmart was penalized $102,422 for violations of federal hazardous waste, clean water, emergency planning and preparation regulations at 17 distribution centers.[32] Kmart corrected the violations by preparing and implementing spill prevention control and countermeasure plans, applying for appropriate storm water permits, complying with hazardous waste generator requirements, and submitting reports to state and local emergency planning and response organizations informing them of the presence of hazardous substances.[33] The Environmental Protection Agency also accused Kmart of not maintaining adequate information and failing to act in accordance with hazardous waste storage and disposal requirements.[34] For instance, the EPA reported having discovered improperly labeled oil storage drums at a location in Falls, Pennsylvania.[34]

Out of concern for the environment, Kmart promoted battery recycling.[35] Kmart even proposed spending about $80 million on full-page newspaper advertisements offering to recycle junk batteries for $2 each.[36]

BlueLight internet service

In 1999 Kmart began offering a dial-up internet service called BlueLight, which was eventually spun off as an independent company. BlueLight was initially free and supported by banner ads. BlueLight dropped the free service in February 2001 and was reacquired by Kmart in July 2001. In 2002 United Online, which also owns NetZero and Juno, bought the BlueLight service after Kmart filed for bankruptcy. In August 2006, Bluelight dropped the banners. As of August 2006, the service costs $14.95 a month and has around 165,000 subscribers.

Mascot and spokesperson

In May 2007, Sears Holdings Corporation and Kmart named a new mascot and spokesperson for Kmart called Mr. Bluelight. Named after Kmart's well-known "Blue Light Specials", Mr. Bluelight is a talking cartoonish blue light bulb who gives customers ideas to help them make the most of their Kmart experience. Mr. Bluelight has appeared in several television commercials. Specials associated with Mr. Bluelight inside Kmart stores are advertised as "Blue Light Finds" (marked-down merchandise) and "Best of Blue" (higher-end products, often brand-name).

Canada, Europe and Australia stores

Kmart was also once a major presence in Canada, with its first Kresge store opening in 1929. However, as a result of Kmart's ongoing financial difficulties, the Canadian division comprising 112 stores was sold to competitor Zellers of the Hudson's Bay Company in May 1998, after which the stores were either closed or converted to Hudson's Bay Company brands, mostly Zellers.

Like Target stores, Kmart-branded stores in Australia belonged to Coles Myer before being acquired by Wesfarmers in 2007, which also holds the rights to the Kmart brand in New Zealand.

In 1992, Kmart purchased several communist-era department stores in Eastern Europe, including 13 in the former Czechoslovakia that were bought from the former Czechoslovak government. One of those stores was the old Maj department store on Národní Třída in Prague. Many of these outlets were quite profitable, with the Bratislava location setting a single store sales record for the company. But Kmart's larger troubles in the United States caught up with its European operations later in the decade. In March 1996, The Kmart Corporation announced that it had agreed to sell the six Kmart stores in the Czech Republic and the seven in Slovakia to Tesco P.L.C. of Britain for about $117.5 million, to focus on its core operations in North America.


See also

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  2. ^ Sears Holdings Media Website
  3. ^ Tuesday, May 1, 2007 A town square for Troy? Developers unveil ambitious plan for former Kmart hub (Catherine Jun)The Detroit News
  4. ^ "S.S. Kresge," Reference for Business, Encyclopedia for Business, 2nd ed., accessed December 22, 2009.
  5. ^ "A KRESGE-McCRORY REUNION" by ISADORE BARMASH. New York Times, April 04, 1988 [1]
  6. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2008. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  7. ^ The first Kmart - includes related articles - 30 Years of K Mart - Cover Story Discount Store News, Feb 17, 1992 BNET
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  13. ^ Russell, John (2001-04-14). "Kent, Ohio, Man Recalls Inventing Kmart 'Blue Light Special'". Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved 4 November 2010. 
  14. ^ "Blue-Light Special Re-Appears at Kmart". AP Online. 2005-01-27. Retrieved 4 November 2010. 
  15. ^ Kmart Files for Bankruptcy
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  19. ^ (2009-08-03). "Sears Opens First In-Store Majap Shop Inside Kmart". Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
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  37. ^ Profile at


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