Exuding style, grace and impeccable architecture, Kern’s department store first opened at Woodward and Gratiot in 1897. The store’s foundation was built on the reputation of Ernst Kern, Sr., a German immigrant, whose specialty was importing fabrics, lace and ribbons from around the world.
The department store of the early 1900s had a much different feel than the big box stores of today. Known for cavernous ceilings, beautiful wooden counters and marble floors, the Kern’s building was carefully constructed and would continue to flourish under the able hands of sons Otto and Ernst Jr. Helping to pioneer mailorder and unique holiday sales, the Kern boys were key in several business expansions including a ten story addition in the 1920s.
Always on the edge of something new, Kern’s was one of the first department stores to have a jukebox. An article in a 1945 issue of Billboard points toward the rarity of such an item in a store. “The juke is spotted near the entrance to the department where no visitor can miss it … At times there is a line-up around it, listening and waiting for a chance to play their favorite selections.”
Despite their customer-friendly innovations, Kern’s business began to slump in the 1950s, as modern department stores started to pop up in the suburbs. The Ernst Kern Company was finally sold in 1957 to Buffalo-based Saddler’s, who shuttered the doors for good in 1959.
Left to rot in the early ’60s, the building was ultimately destroyed in 1966, but not before do-gooders could save the Kern’s clock. A beacon of time in the heart of the city, the Kern’s clock often acted as a meeting place for many Metro-Detroiters. Now residing on-site of the Compuware building, the timepiece acts as an enduring symbol of the Kern’s significant place in Detroit history. | L&F |