Saturday, June 10, 2023

Stein Mart #1 Closing, Greenville, MS

Today's post highlights Washington County, MS, retail.

Greetings and salutations my fellow mid-southerners... northwesterners and Florida men... anonymous Houstonians... sidekicks, pirates, and chaos crew leaders... and all other friends and readers of the Mid-South Retail Blog! It has been a rather long time since I've had the opportunity to write a new blog post. The Sing Oil Blogger graciously filled in for me last month, but I didn't even have the time to properly celebrate the blog's eighth anniversary back in March. Finally, I have arrived at the chance today to tell a story I've been wanting to tell for a few years now. This blog has extensively covered the history of Fred's, "the pride of Coldwater, Mississippi" (and we're not done yet -- stay tuned for [what will hopefully be] next month's post!). Now, it's time we take a look at another now-former chain, the pride of Greenville, Mississippi: Stein Mart.

"People would be talking in conversations outside of Greenville, and Stein Mart would come up in the conversation. Invariably, the person from Greenville who was in that conversation with pride would say, 'well, Stein Mart started in Greenville, Mississippi,' and you get a response like, 'oh no way, Greenville?' 'Yeah, it started in Greenville, Mississippi, right in the 200 block of Washington Avenue!'" -- Barry Piltz, Greenville store owner, The Delta News (2020)

The Stein Mart story begins in 1905, when Sam Stein immigrated to New York City to escape Jewish persecution in his birthplace of Amdur. Jay Stein -- Sam's grandson and, later, CEO of the three-generation family business -- was featured in a self-written profile in Fortune in 2014, and says of his grandfather, New York "was too big and bustling for him. So he saved all his nickel tips until he had enough to leave, and went to Memphis. There was this firm that would give immigrants a bag of merchandise — things like needles and thread and socks — and they’d go out, sell, and send the money back. My grandfather would take a steamboat every week down the Mississippi Delta and sell to farmers and farmhands whatever he could carry.

"He got off the steamboat in Greenville, Miss., and saw that the town was building a new synagogue. He said to himself, 'They must be good to their Jews here, and it looks like a great town.' He settled and kept going out to the farms until someone in town said, 'You need a general store,' and lent him the money to do that."

In 1908, the Sam Stein Store opened in downtown Greenville on Walnut Street. In 1924, it relocated to 207 Washington Avenue. Sam passed away in 1933, and his son, Jake, returned from college to take over the business. As the store became more popular, Jake "would purchase the adjoining buildings until he owned the entire block. As he purchased those buildings, he would create an opening in the wall and the square footage of his business thus grew." Eventually, Jake Stein owned the entire block of 200 Washington, where the business would maintain a presence for more than 70 years.

Sam Stein's store, downtown Greenville, circa 1958. Courtesy Facebook

Tiled Sam Stein's store entrance, 2014. Courtesy flickr

Staying at 200 Washington wasn't always what Jake had envisioned, however. In 1950, Sam Stein's moved to 401 Washington Avenue. Jake "told his brother and sister to open up the new store, and he would take care of selling out the merchandise in their old space. That going-out-of-business sale did so well that a light went on for my father. He told his brother and sister to keep running the new store, and he would make the old space a promotional store. He had stumbled on the off-price model that would make us a hit — selling to people who needed great merchandise at really deep discounted prices." 

The old 200 Washington location would become known as Stein's Self Service Store for its first few years, before a relative told the family of "a friend of mine who’s opening stores in Arkansas; his name is Sam Walton and he calls his Wal-Mart." Thus, Stein Mart held its grand opening on November 12, 1964. According to a Forbes piece, "the new retail operation offered mill closeouts and irregulars at more than 50% off retail value. It was stocked with clothing, linens, appliances, piece goods, and luggage, in addition to health and beauty aids and a pastry counter. It also offered a charge card, valid at all Stein family businesses throughout Greenville."

Stein Mart on Washington Avenue. Courtesy "And speaking of which..."

Washington Avenue in the 1960s. Notice the Stein Mart on the far right of the photo, right beside the Fred's store. Courtesy Facebook

Jay Stein, Jake's son and Sam's grandson, became involved in the family business from a young age. Though father and son "held very different operating philosophies and often fought 'like cats and dogs,'" according to a brilliant and in-depth profile on "The Stein Saga" from Southern Jewish Heritage, Jake nevertheless "continued to share his merchandising experience with Jay and introduced him to the many contacts he had made over the years. At one point they met a senior executive of Saks Fifth Avenue and negotiated with him to buy Saks’s surplus items in bulk at a favorable price. These were sold at Stein Mart at discount prices for as much as ninety percent off the original prices at Saks. The Saks Sales at Stein Mart became a shopping phenomenon in Greenville."

The Delta Democrat-Times, Greenville's local newspaper, noted that the Saks sales "would bring people from throughout the region and beyond the Delta." Clyde McGee, manager of the Greenville Stein Mart from 1972-1976, said, "The store was the retail capital of the whole area. When we had the Sak's Fifth Avenue sale, people would come from hundreds of miles away." Local resident Lynn Cox agreed that "The highlight was the annual Sak's sale. People were packed in the aisles looking for designer clothes and people would literally fight over things. Some people would eat lunch while shopping and spend the day." My mom and her siblings, who grew up in Greenville, also remember digging through boxes at the Saks sales with their mother (my grandma).

Delta Democrat-Times newspaper ad for one of the Stein Mart Semi-Annual Saks Fifth Avenue Salvage Sales. Courtesy Southern Jewish Heritage

In his Fortune profile, Jay Stein writes, "Part of our merchandise was selloff from Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks kept trying to get us to take more. For years I kept talking about opening a store in a larger city, and one day my father said, 'Let’s go look.' In 1977 we went to Memphis and found a vacant 30,000-square-foot space. My father looked at it and said, 'We’ll take half of it.' I said, 'What are we going to do with half of it? We ought to take the whole thing!' Right in front of everybody we went at it again. The landlord made it economically feasible so we could take all of it."

Ultimately, the two businesses split. Jake Stein remained in charge of Sam Stein's in Greenville, which operated until 1988. Stein Mart, meanwhile, expanded under the leadership of Jay Stein. That Memphis location, Stein Mart's second-ever store, opened on Summer Avenue in 1977, with a third in Nashville following in 1980 and further expansion, to cities such as Little Rock, only growing after that. The first Jacksonville, Florida, Stein Mart opened in 1983, and it was a perfect fit; Jay Stein moved the corporate headquarters from Greenville to Jacksonville a year later. His father stayed behind in Greenville to manage the Stein Mart there until his death in 1996, by which time the company had 123 stores. Stein Mart went public in 1992.

Stein Mart gained a very loyal audience throughout the south, perhaps best epitomized by the chain's Boutique Program. As Jay Stein shared with Fortune, "In Greenville we’d hire our friends’ wives who wanted to work during Saks’ promotions. They saw the merchandise first and got discounts. On opening day in Memphis this lady Jane Carruthers comes to me. She was right out of the Junior League — the apex of Memphis culture and society. She said, 'Can I work here? I’ve got a few friends that would like to, too.' They were the most charming, lovely four ladies I’ve ever met. That was the birth of the Boutique Program — we’d hire local women and they would spread the word. It gave us wonderful credibility, and they enjoyed it. Whenever we’d open a store, the Boutique Program just worked. It was a really important part of our early growth." 

Forbes also commented on the Boutique Program, calling it "one of Stein Mart's most unique attributes" and writing, "Each of its locations hired a team of 12 to 14 'boutique ladies.' Most of these women served on community boards and advised customers on the latest fashion trends and helped build wardrobes. Boutique ladies tended to work one day a week and the positions were highly coveted. However, the popularity of the program was much stronger in the south than it was in more remote trading areas."

Indeed, Stein Mart did begin to expand beyond its core southern states as part of its continued growth efforts in the new millennium. Forbes opines that this move cost the chain "part of its identity," arguing, "Based in the south, with an understanding of the southern shopper, its entry into California, South Dakota, and Ohio failed to gain the same amount of loyalty" that Stein Mart enjoyed in other states. "For customers throughout the northeast, midwest, and California, Stein Mart seemed like just another shopping center store." Nevertheless, the chain continued to grow, reaching a peak of 293 stores in 2017 -- but not without challenges along the way.

Stein Mart's final store count and geographical distribution, 2020. Courtesy Jacksonville Daily Record

Jay Stein stepped down as CEO in 2002 but remained as chairman of the board. In his words, following his tenure, the company "tried with three different CEOs and failed for every available reason. They weren’t merchants. You’ve got to have a merchant running a retail operation. After our third unsuccessful try, I took the position of interim CEO. Sixteen months into it a reporter came to me and asked, 'When are you going to drop the interim title?' I said, 'Right now.' I didn’t realize the consequences, and our general counsel came in and said, 'We have to make a public announcement!'"

For his part, Jay Stein's return as CEO was met with great response. An article in USA Today at the time suggested that "Stein Mart's success may have as much to do with offering customers great deals as with its familial roots and personality. Stein has an 87% approval rating on job ratings site Glassdoor." Stein even "gave up his year-end bonus, distributing it to store employees to use for meals out with each other or other activities. He says his bonus was the thank-you letters he received from customers in the months following his return to the company. 'That meant more to me than anything in this world,' he says."

D. Hunt Hawkins, who joined Stein Mart in 1994 as senior vice president of human resources, agrees with Stein that the revolving door of CEOs hurt the chain. According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, Hawkins "lists two leadership challenges: The three-year CEO tenure from 2008-11 of former Belk Inc. executive David Stovall, who reduced inventories and generated cash but experienced difficulty driving up sales, and the six-month leadership in 2016 of CEO Dawn Robertson, who moved quickly but 'maybe not as cautiously' with sales initiatives. Hawkins counts the heyday as 2012-15, after Stovall left and Stein returned as CEO and named Hawkins and Brian Morrow as co-presidents. Comparable store sales – sales at stores opened for more than a year – increased in each of those years, and the company’s financial health improved.

"But those heyday years also had problems," Hawkins concedes to the Jacksonville Daily Record. "'We became way too department store-like.' Stein Mart filled its calendar with promotions, from coupons to 12- and 14-hour sales that required advertising and other 'margin-erosive' actions. 'That kind of took the customer’s eye off the fact that we were really off-price,' he said. ... [A]bout 70% of the products moved at the ticketed price, yet the company spent money on promotions that cut into margins."

Following Jay Stein's second departure as CEO, and Dawn Robertson's short six-month tenure in 2016, Hawkins officially became CEO of Stein Mart, continuing his oversight of the chain's transition to a total off-price retailer which had begun in previous years while he was in other roles including executive vice president, co-president, chief operating officer, and chief administrative officer. "When we tested going full off-price, no promotions whatsoever, we tested that in Richmond and in Detroit, and it worked beautifully," Hawkins said. "I wish we had done that sooner." Stein Mart became "one of the first off-price retailers to create an internet presence and a website, which ended up accounting for about 8% of its sales volume," and "also was the first off-price retailer to offer in-store pickup and ship-from-store." 

In many ways, the website BroStocks opines, Stein Mart's off-price model as started in downtown Greenville and perfected in ensuing decades became the forerunner to off-price stores of today: "The family-run business of selling off rack discount clothing was one adopted more successfully by later players such as TJ Maxx and Marshall’s. Now, many retail players that were likely sources to Stein Mart are even taking notice of the business model. For example, Sak’s 5th Avenue with Off 5th, Macy’s with Macy’s Backstage, and Nordstrom with Nordstrom Rack."

CEO Hunt Hawkins standing next to the cash register used in the original family store in Greenville during the 1940s and 1950s. It was donated to the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in New Orleans. Courtesy Jacksonville Daily Record

Jay Stein remained chairman of the board once more following Hawkins's ascension to CEO in 2017, and said in 2014 of the chain's future, "We’ve got the best organization we’ve ever had. I’m a lot happier than I was the first time we built it. ... One day we’ll find a business partner that can keep the same standards and atmosphere, and we’ll merge our company. I’m in no hurry, and I’m very particular. We’ll do the right thing. It’s legacy. It’s got our name on it."

Unfortunately, as noted in BroStocks's timeline of Stein Mart's history, "The optimistic projections of Jay Stein in the previously cited Fortune magazine profile would never come to pass." Stein Mart's stock price continued to fall throughout 2017, to which CEO Hawkins responded by "vowing to make cuts including cuts of 10% of their corporate staff, reductions in capital expenditures by $22 million from the previous year, and a suspension of their quarterly dividend to save $14 million annually. As the company continued to struggle, Stein Mart announced in January 2018 that they had appointed a special committee to work with management to explore strategic alternatives. The announcement, rather vague, seemed to be the company trying to signify they intended to right the ship."

Indeed, the company did find a buyer in early 2020, entering into an agreement "to sell the company to Kingswood Capital Management LLC and to an entity managed by Chairman Jay Stein," taking the chain private. However, some shareholders pushed back on the agreement, delaying its finalization. The COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 complicated matters even further, as all 281 Stein Marts temporarily closed and "most of its 8,600 store employees and about half of the 375-member corporate staff" in Jacksonville were furloughed. The merger was called off "by mutual agreement amid the unpredictable economic conditions caused by the pandemic." The Jacksonville Daily Record reports:

The stores closed at the end of business March 18 and started reopening in April.

“The vendor community, once we reopened, they were working with us pretty well,” Hawkins said.

He, Stein Mart President MaryAnne Morin and Chief Financial Officer James Brown were optimistic they would pull through.

They thought it might take a year to “come around the corner,” but that it was possible. 

Instead, what was around the bend was another surge of COVID-19.

“When the resurgence hit Florida, hit Texas, hit Arizona and California, and that’s almost 45% of our stores, sales just plummeted and we just couldn’t keep up at that point,” Hawkins said.

He, Morin and Brown kept the board apprised.

They had talked with Wells Fargo, the lead banker, and Gordon Brothers, the term loan holder.

“We were looking to them for a little bit more time, and they were looking and going, ‘Nah, it’s not going to work, guys.’”

Hawkins said he and Brown knew it.

“MaryAnne really was trying desperately to make it work. It’s not that James and I weren’t trying desperately to make it work, but you could read the cards, and the cards did not say it was going to work,” Hawkins said.

“The cash flow indicated we would need more help from our lenders or other third party.”

Stein Mart sent Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notices for the headquarters and the Atlanta distribution facility late Aug. 11 about impending layoffs.

The company filed for bankruptcy protection the next day.

Hawkins spoke to the management staff upon the filing.

“It was difficult. That was the hardest part. I wasn’t going to do it via email. I was going to talk to them,” he said.

Stein Mart set up two Zoom meetings to tell associates “we had to file.” One was with the corporate office and the other was with store managers and assistant managers.

Corporate employees heard first and those in the field were told about a half-hour later.

“I wanted them to see my face. I wanted them to hear the emotion in my voice because it wasn’t something that I was relishing doing,” Hawkins said.

“But it also wasn’t something that I wasn’t going to tell them personally.”

Temporary store closure notice. Courtesy the Tribune Star

Greenville Stein Mart store closing banner. Courtesy the Delta Democrat-Times

The store liquidation sales started with the filing and concluded Oct. 26. Of the original 280 managers, about 240 – a “very loyal employee base” – still were on board when the stores closed. 

“I’m sad for them,” Hawkins said. 

“But as I told everybody, you can’t look at anything you did that caused this. Our people, everybody from MaryAnne to everybody in the stores, did everything right,” he said.

“It’s just when you get shut down from a pandemic it becomes incredibly difficult,” he said. “It’s nothing to hang their head about.”

Advertising Manager Melissa Cummings, who was with Stein Mart for almost seven years, was in the main Zoom meeting, where Hawkins appeared by video and Morin by audio.

“You could tell it was painful for him, gut-wrenching,” she said.

Cummings said the employees were in shock, having been told as recently as late June that Stein Mart leaders felt good about survival.

“Many of us had just been given promotions,” she said.

“But the one thing about Hunt is that he always seemed more down-to-earth and friendly toward employees than any other CEO I’ve worked for,” she said.

“Those calls that morning were hard for him,” she said. “The decisions weren’t made lightly.”

As for pre-pandemic causes leading to Stein Mart's bankruptcy, interestingly, "Hawkins doesn’t blame the internet as much as other retailers might. 'Everybody wants to blame Amazon and say that Amazon is a big bully. Years ago it was Walmart. Walmart was the big bully,' he said. Both are big and powerful, but not the only factor. 'I think retailers can in some respects blame themselves because the fact is America is way over-retailed,' he said. 'What we’re seeing is the fact that consumers’ tastes are changing. It’s become a casual world and the pandemic has made that even more powerful with the fact that more and more people are working from home.'"

Speaking of working from home: the Jacksonville Daily Record continues that, "At the end, home goods became [Stein Mart's] strongest business during the pandemic. 'The customer was stuck at home,' Hawkins said. 'It was our highest margin and highest sales business, and it had not been for a long time. It was really fascinating to see a virus fix home,' he said, referring to that business category." 

Ironically, the company as a whole also experienced net profits for two straight months following the bankruptcy filing, after having reported only annual net losses since 2015. BroStocks notes that, in a bittersweet way, this brings the chain's story full circle: "As stated in our timeline, the late Jake Stein crafted his business model after seeing the success of liquidating his first store prior to moving to a larger location. The success of Jake’s business model lives on, even as Stein Mart marks another family business legacy making its COVID-19 era exit from the retail stage."


As Greenville's downtown declined, at some point in time the first Stein Mart relocated to the newer retail section of town along Highway 1 South, occupying the former Fred P. Gattas space right next to the former theater now operating as the combined, dual-broken chain Frostop/Pasquale's restaurant that we saw on the blog back in 2021. I visited this Stein Mart many times throughout my childhood on trips to see our relatives in Greenville. 2020 was a strange year, with the pandemic and all the lockdowns stifling many an event or road trip to see new sights. I got to document many store closures and liquidations, to be sure, but given that Stein Mart never had a presence in North Mississippi, and I was fully entrenched in graduate school by the time Stein Mart was conducting its going out of business sales, I was afraid this piece of "lost histories of Mid-South retail" might pass me by. With not much time left to spare before the chain's final day on October 26, I managed to take a free day on October 17th to meet up with my mom and her sister in Greenville to say one last goodbye to Stein Mart #1.

These first few photos were taken in 2017, a few years prior to the liquidation. I'm not sure if the mansard roof facade was added to this building by Stein Mart, or a remnant from the Fred P. Gattas store. Notice how Pasquale's and Frostop still have storefront branding here -- that was later removed, for unknown reasons, leaving the facade blank by 2020, as you'll see below.

A small hallway at the front of the store leading to restrooms, offices, etc. featured these framed newspaper articles and a paper bag from the chain's early days, showcasing its history. I always thought this display was a nice nod to Stein Mart's heritage in Greenville. Sadly, by the time of the liquidation, these frames were no longer present. I have to imagine they were saved by an employee or sent somewhere to be preserved, rather than discarded. It does at least make sense to me that they would have been excluded from the fixture sale.

Moving onto the October 2020 pics now. As I said, notice how the Pasquale's/Frostop facade is now empty. Reportedly, this Stein Mart used to have horse and boat 10-cent coin operated rides out front. An Instagram user says those were donated to the local EE Bass Cultural Arts Center's Carousel Room in Greenville. I can vaguely remember them, but never rode on them, to my knowledge.

A hallmark of all Stein Marts, in my experience, are the storefront display windows -- not something you see very often in retail these days, but very much a big deal when Stein Mart was starting out. I believe all of their stores were built or retrofitted to have these. At this point in time, however, there were no more mannequins or other displays to be found... only notices of the store's discounts heading into its last 9 days of business.

Inside, the store had a typical grid layout, with tiled walkways separating the carpeted department areas. The ceiling was a little strange, too, presumably owing to the building's past life. The higher ceiling area shown above is in the front of the store; the lower ceiling was at the back. This shot is looking across the center of the salesfloor over to the left-hand wall.

This shot, meanwhile, turns our focus to the right for a look at the back right corner. Merchandise, obviously, was getting quite thin at this point.

In the front of the store, windows to the upstairs offices could be seen overlooking the salesfloor.

Seen above is the front right corner, previously home to the women's Boutique department, as shown in the photos below. Those pre-liquidation photos, courtesy Google Maps, also show the store's fragrance and jewelry department which used to be straight ahead upon entering.

Courtesy Google Maps

Courtesy Google Maps

The back right corner of the store, which was 100% empty. All remaining merchandise had been consolidated forward. Women's apparel occupied this side of the store, with men's and home on the left-hand side. Lingerie was in this specific space at the back.

Shoes were in the center portion of the back of the store, and were always popular to look through. You can see a number of shoppers in the area in my pictures, even. The selection was fairly wiped out, but still not emptied just yet. According to Wikipedia, Stein Mart leased its shoe departments to other retailers, like DSW, for decades.

Looking up toward the front right corner of the store again. I will say that Stein Mart's decor always seemed rather drab to me. Beige walls, bland floors. Nothing particularly exciting.

The home goods department occupied the space adjacent to shoes, but was completely empty by the time of my visit. The pictures below show what it looked like in better times. I typically found it kind of cramped to walk through; the fixtures weren't really the best choice for the space, but then again, this store was fairly old.

Courtesy Google Maps

Courtesy Google Maps

The Stein Mart logo on a box of disposable socks in the shoe department.

The back left corner of the store was kind of an alcove all to itself. I have vague memories of this space serving multiple purposes over the years. At one point in time, I remember it was even curtained off entirely. I believe it spent its last years as a final-sale clearance area. In October 2020, it was serving as the fixture sale graveyard.

Another look at the erstwhile home goods department, this time from within the onetime clearance alcove.

All of the department signs had already been removed from the walls and lined up against the floor as part of the fixture sale. As usual, these things were a bit larger than you might expect. They were very reasonably priced, though, especially since fixtures were half-off at this point in time. I went home with the (smallest!) "Fitting Rooms" sign and am happy to have it in my collection. (They forgot to give it to me half-price, but oh well. I wasn't thrilled at the time, but $20 is still a fair price to pay to own this piece of Stein Mart and Greenville history.) Other signs include "Dresses," "Petites," "Ladies," "Shoes," and "Lingerie" -- any others, such as "Men's," were missing and/or sold.

Another look into the alcove in the back left corner, followed by yet another view of the home goods area. Like I said, these spaces were just chock full of disused fixtures waiting to be sold. My mom actually bought a decorative drawer/ladder fixture that is now displayed in her dining room!

In-between the alcove in the back and the men's department in the front, the middle section of the left-hand wall used to be home to Stein Mart's selection of bedding, linens, and other textiles. I am surprised to see that all of the bulky wall fixtures were totally removed without a trace by the time of my visit. Perhaps this area later became home to something else? I do know the chain went back and forth on selling children's clothing over the years -- maybe that is what later went into this space. The below images were taken in 2018.

Courtesy Google Maps

Courtesy Google Maps

A look into the men's department in the front left portion of the salesfloor. The beige walls return over here, after having transitioned to white for the non-apparel departments. The pics below show a little bit of what this department used to look like. You certainly don't see seersucker suits very often anymore!

Courtesy Google Maps

Courtesy Google Maps

Courtesy Google Maps

Unlike the women's on the opposite side of the store, the men's fitting rooms still had their department sign hanging on the wall. I took this shot so y'all could see how the Stein Mart fitting rooms were set up: the center area had a large step up with a wall of mirrors, so you could see yourself from all angles. I'm not sure if newer stores continued to be built with this feature, but this is another element that strikes me as being from a different time in retail shopping.

A couple more shots looking along the store's left-hand wall towards the rear. A very small amount of home goods remained on those few tables in the second picture above. Two of the pillows for sale went home with me and are now on my couch! (I had already picked them up by the time I took this picture -- but they are visible in another picture earlier on in this post.)

The front left corner of the store was completely desolate, and I thought this shot was very interesting in showing that; only a newer-style marketing poster, two very weird 3-wheeled shopping bag/cart things, and half of a mannequin remain. On the topic of shopping carts, besides these ones, the other style Stein Mart used was also strange: it featured just regular handbaskets, placed into two empty slots on tiers within the metal cart framework, one on top and one on bottom. A few of those can be seen in various other photos throughout this post.

Some final looks at the front end of the store before we head back outside. Certainly looking very barren here, compared to how I remember the store looking in happier times. Notice the skinny door behind that lone rack of clothes -- I'm pretty sure that leads to one of the display windows on the exterior of the building.

My attempts at framing a shot of the storefront logo and "store closing!" banner similar to the one the Delta Democrat-Times featured in their article (shown earlier in this post). Some final, more drawn-back storefront views follow below.

I always liked Stein Mart's longtime association with Greenville, as -- you know me -- I am a sucker for local pride and any chain that has its roots in Mississippi. I'm very glad Stein Mart kept a store in Greenville up until the very end, just like Fred's did in Coldwater. That said, I can't claim to always have been a fan of Stein Mart's actual merchandise. I think that's the complaint you'll hear from most people, in fact: that the chain seemed to skew quite a bit towards the older crowd. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it does somewhat limit your opportunities as the younger crowd's tastes begin to take over. CEO D. Hunt Hawkins even spoke a little about this, in one of the Jacksonville Daily Record interviews I referenced above. The chain was making an effort to cater to younger demographics in its later years, but unfortunately just never got the chance to fully see that through.

The roadside sign facing Hwy 1 S was very large, quite possibly because the store itself was set back very far from the street and not the easiest to see if you weren't explicitly looking for it. Those last two pics above are looking at the store as seen from the parking lot of the Greenville Mall across the street.

Our stour completed, let's next take a look at my other takeaways from this visit. Above, you can see my Fitting Rooms sign. It is made out of a thick, durable styrofoam-like material, and was very, very dusty when I bought it, lol. It measures approximately 14 inches tall by 38 inches across at the top, and about 2 inches thick.

As you would expect, I saved this oversized bag, and it is now in my collection. continues to operate today, but only because the chain's intellectual property was sold in the bankruptcy. The Stein Mart IP has joined other online-only zombie retailers such as Linens 'n Things, Dressbarn, RadioShack, Pier 1, and the not-even-freshly-dead-yet Tuesday Morning in the hands of Retail Ecommerce Ventures... which reportedly may be heading for bankruptcy itself, according to recent reports. (#ouch)

Some pics of a pricetag as well as our receipt -- note "Store #001"! -- round out my pictures from the Greenville, MS, Stein Mart.


I don't usually have a third part to posts like this, but there are just a few more things I'd like to go over before wrapping things up. Despite being a Mississippi-born chain, once operations moved to Florida, Stein Mart never grew much more within its home state; the company concluded operations in 2020 with just six stores in Mississippi: Greenville (store #1), Biloxi (360), Hattiesburg (353), and three in the capitol metro area (Jackson - 6, Madison - 345, and Flowood - 295).

Former Jackson Stein Mart, July 2022. I believe this was the first Mississippi location outside of Greenville.

Former Madison Stein Mart, July 2022. Marshalls opened here in November 2022.

The Biloxi location has become a thrift store, while the one in Hattiesburg has become a store called Urban Planet. Jackson, unsurprisingly, remains vacant; Flowood, surprisingly, also remains vacant (I wonder if the next-door Kroger will eventually expand into the space). Madison has become a Marshalls, which itself relocated from elsewhere in Jackson (I miss the old store!).

Vacant Greenville Stein Mart, for sale. Courtesy LoopNet

Greenville's former Stein Mart also remains vacant, which I mostly expected, but I'm actually happy to report that the rest of the Hwy 1 corridor seems to be experiencing a bit of a retail renaissance. Recently, the vacant Office Depot next to the Stein Mart became a Goodwill, and the vacant Pizza Inn outparcel was torn down for a new Jack's restaurant. The town's first Chick-fil-A opened in a new outparcel to the mall, and the mall has also added new exterior-facing Five Below and Shoe Dept. Encore stores, with Hobby Lobby soon to take over the former JCPenney anchor. Here's to hoping the former Stein Mart will soon find new life, too!

As it happens, Greenville's former former Stein Mart is also finding new life. As shown above, a historical marker stands at 200 Washington Avenue downtown, the site of the original Stein Mart store. The entire block of buildings was demolished at some point in time, creating a grassy area known as Stein Mart Square (shown below). 

The square in present times seems mostly underutilized -- although it was at least decorated for Christmas in my December 2020 pics above -- and as a result, the site was selected as the location for a new, $45.3 million federal courthouse. After several years' delay, ground finally broke on the project in August 2022, with completion tentatively set for fall 2024. Renderings and discussion of additional architectural design details can be found at this link. To replace the park area, the city obtained permission to demolish another nearby building and place a greenspace on its lot. Neither that demolition nor the selection of Stein Mart Square as the courthouse site came without controversy, but the projects appear to be moving forward and will hopefully bring positive change to downtown Greenville regardless.


I hope y'all enjoyed this post on Stein Mart #1 in Greenville, and once again, I apologize for the long delay between blog posts! Hopefully I will be able to churn out a few more posts this year, but even if not, you can still find me posting content regularly (albeit not quite as frequently) over on flickr. And as always, thanks so much for reading and commenting! Until next time, have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are :)

Retail Retell