Sometime between 1905 and 1908, Sam Stein started selling wares in Greenville in a small shop.
His son, Jake, would continue in the family business, and as that business grew, he 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.
The store, still called Sam Stein’s, was remodeled in 1957-58 when the last of the properties came together. Six years later, the store would be rebranded to Stein Mart on Nov. 12, 1964.
Clyde McGee, former owner of The Sportsman in Greenville, was the manager of Stein Mart from 1972-1976. He was there when Sam Stein’s grandson, Jay Stein, first set his sights on expanding the store outside its Greenville roots.
“We rode around and looked at places to grow in Memphis and Jackson,” McGee said. “Jake wasn’t for expanding. He liked what he had going in Greenville, but Jay saw it different.
“He was very successful for a while.”
Stein Mart announced last week the company has filed voluntary petitions for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida – Jacksonville Division.
Linda Tasseff, Stein Mart’s director of external communications and investor relations, said the combined effects of a challenging retail environment coupled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant financial distress on their business, which resulted in the need to file for bankruptcy.
Tasseff said all the stores will remain open during the liquidation process until all merchandise is sold.
“We expect this process to be completed during the fourth quarter with all stores closing on a staggered basis,” she said, noting it is too soon to know when the closing date for Greenville’s store will be.
Until the stores do close, Stein Mart’s customary motions with the Bankruptcy Court will authorize the company’s ability to maintain operations in the ordinary course of business, including the payment of employee wages and benefits without interruption, payment of suppliers and vendors in the normal course of business, and the use of cash collateral.
“Please know that this was an extremely difficult decision, and is deeply disappointing for all of us at Stein Mart. We have loved serving our communities over the years and are so grateful to our loyal customers who chose to shop our stores,” Tasseff said.
While the company was a publicly traded entity, it remained majority owned by the Stein family mirroring its roots as a family business.
“It was very much a family deal,” McGee said. “Freida came to work all the time and Jake had all these connections all over New York.”
The crux of the Stein business was in discount prices on clothing that were seconds, store returns or irregulars.
“They were fantastic merchants,” McGee said. “They were the best software merchants in America.”
Those sales would bring people from throughout the region and beyond the Delta. “The store was the retail capital of the whole area,” McGee said. “When we had the Sak’s Fifth Avenue sale, people would come from hundreds of miles away.”
Local resident Lynn Cox remembers the original store from when she first moved to Greenville.
“Stein Mart was a true bargain department store,” Cox said. “The vintage wooden counters had piles of household goods, clothes, shoes and fabrics.
“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,” Cox said. “Some people would eat lunch while shopping and spend the day.”
Richard Dattel said his fondest memory of the store was of Mrs. Stein. “I remember Jay’s mother,” Dattel said. “She worked until Jay moved her to Jacksonville at 90 years old or so. Very gracious lady.”