Updated: April 2019
Beautiful Architecture Made the Stores Stand Out
The Kress Building in Asheville was one of over 200 stores, which was operated by the retail department store chain S. H. Kress & Co.
Its Founder Samuel Henry Kress
Founder Samuel Henry Kress (1863-1955) was a visionary entrepreneur and an avid art collector. After opening his first store in 1887, Samuel Kress reinvested its growing profits by opening new stores. His chain of retail stores, known as S. H. Kress Company, was a type of “dollar-store”, which in the early 1900s was also called a Five-and-Dime store.
An Innovative Concept
Different to his competitors, Samuel Kress located his stores in smaller cities, which had the potential to grow over time. These smaller cities typically had only a dry-goods or a general store. The new Kress Five and Dime stores became an instant hit in these cities as they provided customers with quality goods at the lowest possible price. His stores proliferated, and Samuel Kress was able to expand his chain nationwide to over 200 stores in 29 states.
What also made these stores stand out, was their beautiful architecture. Between 1905 and the mid-1940s, Samuel Kress afforded an in-house architectural division. Part of his staff of architects was E. J. T. Hoffman, who designed Asheville’s neoclassical Kress Building in 1927. Using glazed terra cotta on the front façade facing Patton Avenue combined with a border of orange and blue rosettes surrounding each of the window bays and the curved Kress emblem at the parapet, the Kress Building was certainly as inviting back then as it is today.
Samuel Kress Donated His Art Collection to the Cities That Contributed to his Wealth
By the mid-1920s, Samuel Kress was living in a penthouse across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While his business was prospering, he acquired an extensive collection of mainly Italian baroque paintings and sculptures for his foundation. Around the 1930s, Samuel Kress decided to donate much of his art collection to museums in the cities where his stores’ success contributed to his wealth, such as Raleigh NC, Columbia SC, Atlanta GA, and Washington DC.
Shopping Malls Leaving No Room for Smaller Stores
In 1964, specialty retailer Genesco bought the Kress chain. With shopping malls spreading in the 1970s, Genesco slowly gave up most of its downtown stores and moved the businesses into shopping malls.
By 1980, most of the stores had been liquidated. The remaining stores were sold to McCrory Stores in 1981, which was another five-and-dime chain. McCrory Stores operated the former Kress stores under the Kress brand until McCrory Stores went out of business in 2001.
The Kress Building Today
Today, the ground level of the Kress Building houses two stores worth visiting. From Patton Avenue, you have access to the Kress Emporium, which showcases beautiful art from over 100 artists. From College Street, you may want to explore the K2 Studio, which is located in the same building and offers a range of locally sourced furniture made by local artists or craftspeople. In both stores, you can sense the owners’ deep passion for art, which they seem to have in common with Samuel Kress.
19 Patton Avenue or 59 College Street, Asheville, NC 28801
STREET VIEWING ONLY.
Rankin Parking Garage.
Public bus stop: Patton Ave at Biltmore Ave.
Stop Gray Line Historic Trolley: Pack Square.