Do You Know What the ‘K’ in K-Mart Means? The Answer Was Once in Downtown Owensboro, Kentucky
Just the other day, my sister texted me and asked, "What was the name of the store downtown that had the diner with the strawberry pie?"
SHOPPING IN DOWNTOWN OWENSBORO IN THE 1970S
Well, that honestly was all it took to send me on a magic carpet ride through the space-time continuum until I landed on the sidewalk of 2nd Street in Owensboro, circa...oh, I don't know...let's say 1973.
But she's right. The store in question WAS famous for its strawberry pie. Or at least its diner was. I mean, it WAS a department store, after all. And it wasn't at all like the department stores that we know today. Not at all. It was very "old school." It was very "a scene from 'A Christmas Story.'" In two words, it was very cool.
I have great memories of downtown Owensboro from my childhood and all the stores that, in the 1970s, were still as they had been since the 1940s. Oh, there was a real "Miracle on 34th Street" vibe, too. That's the old 1947 classic about the Macy's Department Store Santa who claims to be and then seemingly PROVES that he is the real Santa Claus.
KRESGE'S -- THE 'K' IN K-MART
But if you DO remember Kresge's 5 & 10 and all of its toy, clothing, hardware, and knick-knack stands, do you also remember the future significance of that old brand?
KRESGE was the "K" in K-Mart, and when K-Mart opened in Wesleyan Park Plaza back in the 1970s, Kresge's downtown closed. And it was a sad day.
THE SURPRISINGLY LONG HISTORY OF K-MART
Sebastian S. Kresge opened his first store at the tail-end of the 19th century and sold everything for five or ten cents. And I'm not sure if this decision was the actual CREATION of the "5 & Dime" store; the fascinating timeline of K-mart's history I found online doesn't really say that. But does reveal that the original Kresge's disappeared gradually from our nation's downtown areas after the advent of K-mart. I had no idea that it wasn't until about 1987 that they were gone for good.
If you have a little time, here's a mini-documentary about Kresge and his foundation and entrepreneurship.
KRESGE'S FADES AWAY
And the fading out of Kresge's WAS a shame but certainly, a sign of the times and a sign indicating where we were headed. There isn't a big box store--K-Mart was an early version--that can match the charm of those old mercantile-style establishments. And they still can't. But that is unfortunately all we know now. And no, it's not SUPER-unfortunate; the convenience of those big stores speaks for itself, even if it MIGHT drive you crazy to venture through one of them.
I do tip my hat to local businesspeople whose small companies and boutiques sort of echo the way it was and I applaud them for their success. But stores like that are singularly focused, and that is perfectly fine and, really, more fitting for the 21st century.
We'll not ever again see a "department" store like the ones we used to have in downtown Owensboro. But retro is a big thing and if someone was clever enough...Oh well, just a thought.
KEEP READING for more national brands we knew and loved that are no longer with us.