Kress Building in Columbia, Missouri
The Kress Building opened in 1910, capping off a decade that saw substantial growth for Columbia that resulted in the completion of this and several other commercial building boom. The Kress Five and Dime national chain started in 1896 in Memphis and then expanded to other neighboring cities before coming one of the largest national chain stores of the early 20th century with hundreds of stores.
Backstory and Context
This Classic Revival style commercial building is named in honor of its first occupant, S. H. Kress & Company. The Kress Wholesale Company Store was one of the many "five and dime" stores located across the nation in the first half of the 20th century and occupied this building until 1946. Construction of the store coincided with both a commercial building boom and a decade of substantial growth for the city where Columbia's population nearly doubled from 1900 to 1910.
The Mehornay Furniture Company moved into the building after that time and subsequently remodeled the building. Mehornay's business operated until the 1970s. In the decades that followed, the building has been the home to several businesses and generally mirrored both the decline of downtown shopping in small cities in the 1980s and 1990s as well as the return of businesses to historic downtown buildings in the early 21st century.
The building largely appears today as it did upon its completion in 1910. At the time, Columbia's store was part of the company's rapid growth emanating from the company's headquarters in Memphis,
Kress was Columbia;s first chain five and dime store, a term used to describe early twentieth-century department stores offering a wide variety of products. As the twentieth century progressed, five and dimes came to represent stores with inexpensive items while most referred to stores such as JC Penny and Sears as department stores. Kress began in Memphis in 1896 and then grew into a national chain with hundreds of stores located across the nation by the early twentieth century.
Unique to the Kress chain, the company included an architectural division with nearly 100 employees serving that purpose. Each Kress building enjoyed a unique design and are now included as part of a museum exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington, D. C., titled
"Main Street Five and Dime: The Architectural Heritage of S. H. Kress and Co."
The Kress store in Columbia also functioned as an ipso facto social center. As noted in the nomination form to the National Register of Historic Places, the store features a Victrola record player that offered customers the chance to listen to music before committing to a purchase. This led to the store becoming a popular place for adults as well as young people.
In many ways, the building's history as a place where people came to explore and enjoy music remains, as the building has been home to the Penguin Piano Bar and Nightclub since 2004. In this way the Kress Building offers a window into the history of downtown Columbia from department stores and other major retailers to locally owned businesses that reflect the way more people are returning to the downtown areas for entertainment and culture.
Sapp, David. Boone County Chronicles. Columbia, Mo: Boone County Historical Society, 2000.
Sheals, Debbie. "Nomination Form: Kress Building." National Register of Historic Places. mo.gov. March 9, 2005. https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/nps-nr/05000122.pdf.
By Sesamehoneytart - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41883057