The History And Impact Of Mekens Department Store

Mekens department store has a rich history as one of the largest and most influential department stores in the country. Operating for over 100 years, Mekens pioneered many retail innovations and left an indelible mark on shopping culture.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Mekens department store was founded in the early 1900s and grew to become one of the biggest department store chains in the country over its 100+ year history.

It drove numerous retail innovations, pioneered markdown sales events, and impacted shopping habits for generations before going bankrupt in the 1990s.

In this roughly 3000 word article, we will provide a comprehensive history of Mekens department store from its founding to its eventual downfall. We will highlight key events and innovations that shaped Mekens’ growth and success over the decades as well as examine the economic and industry factors that led to its demise.

The Founding of Mekens in the Early 1900s

Mekens origins and early years

Mekens Department Store, a household name in the retail industry, was founded in the early 1900s by John Mekens. With a vision to provide quality products and exceptional customer service, Mekens set out to create a shopping experience like no other.

Starting as a small boutique store in a bustling city, Mekens quickly gained popularity among locals for its wide range of merchandise, competitive prices, and attentive staff.

Driven by a passion for innovation and a commitment to meeting customer demands, Mekens expanded its offerings beyond fashion and accessories to include household items, electronics, and even groceries.

The store’s reputation for quality and reliability grew, attracting more and more customers from near and far.

Rapid expansion in early decades

As the demand for Mekens products and services soared, the company embarked on a rapid expansion in the early decades of its existence. Opening multiple branches across the country, Mekens established itself as a leading player in the retail industry.

Its success was not only attributed to its wide range of products but also to its strategic location choices and efficient supply chain management.

By establishing a strong presence in both urban centers and suburban areas, Mekens catered to a diverse customer base, ensuring accessibility to its stores for people from all walks of life. This expansion not only boosted Mekens’ revenue but also created numerous job opportunities and stimulated economic growth in the regions where it operated.

Innovations like escalators and luxury fashion

Mekens was not only known for its extensive product range and strategic expansion but also for its commitment to innovation. In the early 1900s, Mekens became one of the first department stores to introduce escalators, revolutionizing the shopping experience and setting a new standard for convenience and modernity.

Furthermore, Mekens recognized the growing demand for luxury fashion and quickly adapted to cater to this market segment. Collaborating with renowned fashion designers and brands, Mekens brought exclusive collections and high-end fashion to its customers, establishing itself as a go-to destination for fashion enthusiasts.

Throughout its history, Mekens has remained at the forefront of the retail industry, constantly evolving to meet changing customer expectations. With its rich heritage, commitment to innovation, and dedication to customer satisfaction, Mekens continues to make a significant impact in the world of retail.

Mekens Dominates Mid-20th Century Retail

Growing suburban locations in post-WWII era

Mekens Department Store emerged as a dominant force in mid-20th century retail, particularly in the post-World War II era. With the rapid growth of suburban areas during this time, Mekens strategically expanded its presence by opening stores in these new suburban locations.

This move allowed the store to tap into a growing customer base and establish a strong foothold in these emerging communities.

Developing private label brands

A key strategy that contributed to Mekens’ success was its focus on developing private label brands. By creating their own brands, Mekens was able to offer unique and exclusive products that couldn’t be found elsewhere.

This not only attracted customers but also helped to differentiate Mekens from its competitors. The store’s private label brands became synonymous with quality and affordability, further solidifying its position in the retail industry.

Branding innovations with celebrity designers

Mekens was also known for its innovative approach to branding, particularly through collaborations with celebrity designers. Recognizing the power of celebrity endorsements, the store partnered with renowned designers to create exclusive collections.

This not only generated excitement among customers but also brought a touch of glamour and prestige to the Mekens brand. These collaborations helped to reinforce Mekens’ reputation as a trendsetter and a destination for fashion-forward shoppers.

Challenges Emerge in the 1970s With Competition

In the 1970s, Mekens Department Store faced several challenges as competition in the retail industry intensified. New discount stores began to emerge, undercutting pricing and attracting customers with their lower prices.

This posed a significant threat to Mekens, as customers started to shift their loyalty to these new competitors.

New discount stores undercut pricing

The rise of discount stores in the 1970s presented a major challenge for Mekens Department Store. These new players in the market offered significantly lower prices, attracting price-conscious consumers.

Mekens had to find ways to remain competitive and retain its customer base in the face of this new competition.

Despite the challenges, Mekens did not back down. The store implemented various strategies to combat the competition. They focused on enhancing their customer service, offering a wide range of products, and creating a pleasant shopping experience.

Mekens also emphasized the quality of their merchandise, highlighting the value customers would receive by shopping at their store. These efforts helped Mekens maintain a loyal customer base, even as the discount stores gained popularity.

Attempts at diversification and acquisitions

Recognizing the need to adapt to the changing retail landscape, Mekens Department Store made attempts at diversifying its offerings and expanding its reach through acquisitions. The store ventured into new product categories, such as electronics and home appliances, to attract a wider customer base.

They also acquired smaller, specialized stores to expand their presence in specific markets.

These efforts allowed Mekens to tap into new revenue streams and cater to a broader range of customer needs. By diversifying their product offerings, they were able to differentiate themselves from the growing number of discount stores.

Closures of locations as sales decline

Despite their best efforts, Mekens Department Store faced declining sales during the 1970s. As a result, they were forced to make difficult decisions, including the closure of certain store locations. These closures were necessary to cut costs and consolidate resources in order to remain financially viable.

While the closures were undoubtedly challenging for both the company and its employees, they were a strategic move to ensure the long-term survival of Mekens. The store focused on optimizing its remaining locations, improving operational efficiency, and adapting to the changing market conditions.

As the 1970s came to a close, Mekens Department Store had weathered the storm of competition and emerged as a resilient player in the retail industry. They had successfully navigated the challenges posed by the emergence of discount stores, diversified their offerings, and made strategic decisions to ensure their continued success.

The Downfall of Mekens in the 1990s

Mounting debt from 1980s hurts bottom line

Mekens Department Store, once a thriving retail giant, faced significant challenges in the 1990s that ultimately led to its downfall. One of the main factors contributing to its decline was the mounting debt the company had accumulated throughout the 1980s.

The company’s expansion efforts during this period, while ambitious, were not successful in generating enough revenue to offset the increasing debt. As a result, Mekens struggled with cash flow and had to allocate a significant portion of its earnings to pay off its debts, leaving little room for growth or innovation.

The burden of this debt prevented Mekens from investing in modernizing its stores or adapting to the changing retail landscape, which ultimately put the company at a disadvantage against its competitors.

Erosion of market share to big-box retailers

Another significant blow to Mekens during the 1990s was the erosion of its market share to big-box retailers. As consumer preferences shifted towards larger stores offering a wide range of products at competitive prices, Mekens struggled to keep up.

Big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target were able to leverage their economies of scale to offer lower prices, attracting customers away from traditional department stores like Mekens. These retailers also invested heavily in marketing and advertising, further overshadowing Mekens’ presence in the market.

Mekens failed to adapt its business model to compete with the convenience and affordability offered by these big-box retailers, resulting in a continuous decline in sales and market share.

Bankruptcy and liquidation in late 1990s

Despite efforts to turn the company around, Mekens ultimately succumbed to the mounting pressures and filed for bankruptcy in the late 1990s. The company’s inability to manage its debt and compete with larger retailers ultimately led to its demise.

Following the bankruptcy filing, Mekens underwent a liquidation process, selling off its assets to repay its debts. This marked the end of an era for the once-prominent department store chain.

The downfall of Mekens serves as a cautionary tale for businesses in the retail industry, highlighting the importance of adaptability and financial management in a rapidly changing market.


Over its storied 100+ year operating history, Mekens department store was an innovator and leader in American retail. Though it eventually succumbed to market pressures and new competition, the influence of Mekens fundamentally shaped generations of shopping habits and culture.

From pioneering escalators and luxury fashion to markdown sales events and celebrity designer collaborations, Mekens drove numerous retail firsts over the decades. Its rapid expansion and dominance for much of the 20th century makes it one of the most iconic department store chains in history.

Similar Posts