A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What does the "K" in K mart stand for?

June 19, 1987

Dear Cecil:

What does the "K" in K-Mart stand for?

Cecil replies:

It's K mart, Ron, not K-Mart. You know what these details mean to me. The K stands for Kresge, as in Sebastian S. Kresge, founder of the S.S. Kresge dime store chain. Sebastian — a man so cheap he gave up golf because he couldn't stand to lose the balls — retired as president of the company in 1929, long before there was any such thing as a K mart. But his name continued to grace the firm's stores. Then, in 1959, one Harry B. Cunningham took over. Harry was a former newspaper reporter and, like many of that breed, a man of subtle (if unappreciated) genius. Sensing that the dime store concept was a bit dated and apparently having cornered the market on blue light bulbs, he decided the time had come for a bold new concept. K mart, with the Kresge name sensibly boiled down to the bare essentials, was it. The first K mart opened in a Detroit suburb in 1962, and shortly thereafter they were sprouting like dandelions nationwide.

By 1977 more than 1,200 of Kresge's 1,600 outlets were K marts, so management proposed changing the company's name to K mart Corporation. This did not sit well with Kresge's son Stanley, who felt the younger generation was insufficiently appreciative of his father's legacy, but he went down to stunning electoral defeat at the annual meeting, 89 million shares to 11 million. People these days just have no respect.

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