Kern’s Department Store

Even in the thick of the Depression, which slammed Detroit particularly hard, city residents weren’t about to allow the grim economy to stifle the Christmas spirit, as witnessed by these hordes of holiday shoppers crammed onto the main floor of Kern’s Department Store, at Woodward and Gratiot, where the Compuware Corp. now stands


Published:

1933

Even in the thick of the Depression, which slammed Detroit particularly hard, city residents weren’t about to allow the grim economy to stifle the Christmas spirit, as witnessed by these hordes of holiday shoppers crammed onto the main floor of Kern’s Department Store, at Woodward and Gratiot, where the Compuware Corp. now stands. The emporium was marked by exquisite touches, such as marble floors, mahogany counters, and soaring ceilings. Kern’s, founded in 1883 by German immigrant Ernst Kern, was originally on St. Antoine, and later moved to Randolph Street. The retailer continued to enlarge, and finally ended up at its Woodward location, which saw several building expansions throughout the years, the last of which was a 10-story addition in 1929. When Kern died in 1901, his sons Otto and Ernst Jr. ran the burgeoning company. Both brothers lived in the city’s elegant Boston-Edison district — Ernst on Edison Street and Otto on Boston Boulevard. Otto’s sons also became involved in management. Kern’s remained a third-generation family business until 1957, when it was sold to the Buffalo, N.Y.-based Sattler’s Inc. However, management changes and business problems led to the closing of Kern’s on Dec. 23, 1959. Although the building was razed in the 1960s, one part of Kern’s was salvaged, its famous clock, which was a downtown icon. Scores of Detroiters were heard to say, “I’ll meet you under the Kern’s clock.” The landmark timepiece, which was refurbished by Compuware, stands at Woodward and Gratiot, a constant reminder of Detroit’s retailing past.

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