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S.H. Kress & Company Collection

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Electric light sconce from the S.H. Kress & Co. store in Anniston, Alabama, c. 1935. Originally designed by Kress architect George E. MacKay in 1929, the shell-motif sconce became a standard fixture.
Collection of the National Building Museum

S.H. Kress & Co. (1896–1981) was one of the 20th century’s most prosperous variety-store retailers. Though never the largest chain, Kress maintained the highest per-store sales of any five-and-dime retailer for more than 20 years, beginning in 1927. The creation of an architectural division within the company played a key role in both attracting customers and facilitating sales.

Samuel H. Kress (1863–1955) envisioned his stores as works of public art that would contribute to the cityscape. To distinguish his stores from those of his competitors, namely F.W. Woolworth Co. and S.S. Kresge Co., he hired staff architects. Kress achieved retail branding success not merely through standardized signage and graphics, but through distinctive architecture and efficient design. Regardless of their style, from elaborate Gothic Revival to streamlined Art Deco, Kress stores were designed to be integral parts of their business districts and helped define Main Street America.

Exterior of the S.H. Kress & Co. store in Phoenix, Arizona, ca. 1948. The design of this Kress storefront reflects both Art Deco style and the city’s desert location.
Gift of Genesco Inc.

In 1989, the Museum secured the company’s 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. The collection strikingly conveys the changing role architecture has played in recent retail history.