Thursday, March 29, 2012

Stein Mart

Stein Mart, a nationwide chain of department stores with roots in Greenville, Mississippi, was named for Sam Stein. A native of Amdur, Belarus,* Stein was born in 1882. Stein immigrated to the United States in January, 1905, arriving at Ellis Island. In New York City, Stein worked for a cousin in the coat manufacturing business. After several months, he had saved enough money to travel to Memphis, where he briefly worked as a peddler of costume jewelry. Soon, however, he went by packet boat to Greenville, arriving in late 1905 or early 1906. According to Stein’s biographer, he arrived in Greenville with $45 in his pocket. Initially, Stein moved throughout the Delta as a traveling salesman. In about 1908, however, he opened a store on Walnut Street. The Sam Stein Store remained at that location until 1924, when the store was moved to 207 Washington Avenue. For more than seventy years, a Stein retail store remained in the 200 block of Washington Avenue.

The original Stein Mart store in Greenville, opened
in 1964. Note the "Charlie Conerly" store next door.
Sam Stein had four children. Upon his death, the second generation of the Stein family assumed management responsibilities. Sons Jake Stein and Joe Stein ran the store on Washington Avenue until the mid-1930s, at which time Joe Stein opened ‘Jay’s,’ which specialized in women’s clothing. Jake and Bernie Stein, along with Julius Sherman, Sadie Stein’s husband, continued to manage the original store. In 1950, the store moved to 401 Washington Avenue. When the new store opened, the Steins ran a ten-page advertisement in the Delta Democrat Times. The new store retained the name “Sam Stein’s.” The store at the old location, focusing on closeout goods and lower-priced merchandise, would be known as “Stein’s Self Service Store.”

Members of the Jake Stein family
pose for a photo in front of the new store.
In 1964, Jake Stein bought all of the stores along the south side of the 200 block of Washington Avenue and expanded his enterprise to include appliances, furniture, auto accessories and other items. With its Grand Opening on November 12, 1964, Jake renamed the store Stein Mart. Later, Jake’s Stein’s son Jay joined his father’s business. In 1968, the two Stein stores separated into two corporations. The Sam Stein Store remained in Greenville until it closed in 1988. Stein Mart, however, expanded under the leadership of Jay Stein. The company first moved into Memphis in 1977. Other stores were opened throughout the southeastern United States, including the Jackson, Mississippi, location in 1982. In 1984, the corporate headquarters moved to Jacksonville, Florida. His father, Jake Stein, remained in Greenville and managed the Stein Mart location there until his death in 1996. Now publicly traded, Stein Mart boasts some 300 stores in thirty states. As of last year, Jay Stein was serving as CEO.

In 2004, historian David Ginzl published a history of Stein Mart called Stein Mart: An American Story of Roots, Family, and Building a Greater Dream.

* Amdur was once a thriving Jewish community. A devastating fire in 1882 destroyed much of the town, however, including the main synagogue, and thousands seeking a better life emigrated to the U.S. prior to 1924, when emigration to America was halted by the U.S. government. In 1942, approximately 3,000 people (what remained of the Jewish population in Amdur) were exterminated by the Nazis at Treblinka.

Photo sources:
(1) Stein Mart store:
(2) Stein family:  Courtesy of The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life:

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