The History of Kern’s Department Store

The Ernst Kern Dry Good Company, was a department store established in Detroit in 1883. In 1886, the original store was consumed by fire and was rebuilt at Randolph and Monroe. In 1900, the company purchased a five story building at Woodward and Gratiot to accommodate increasing business. After World War I, additional space was once again needed for expansion, and the department store acquired the adjoining nine-story Weber Building. In 1929, the store was demolished and a new store was erected. In 1957 the family decided to sell Ernst Kern Co., by then Detroit’s third-largest department store, to Sattler’s Inc. of Buffalo, New York. Following numerous corporate problems and changes in management, the store closed its doors for the final time on December 23, 1959.

The block was torn down in 1966, along with Detroit’s old City Hall, and the Paradise Building across the street, as part of Detroit’s downtown urban renewal. The site remained an undeveloped park until 1999, when the Campus Martius Park project began development. The former site of Kern’s is now occupied by the corporate headquarters of Compuware. Although the store may be gone, the beloved Kern’s clock has been reinstalled at the corner of Woodward and Gratiot Avenues in downtown Detroit. Information found at

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  1. kenneth r roach says

    it sits in my family room in grosse pointe shores mi. thank you

  2. Carolyn Bell says

    This store was owned by my great grandfather, and the many pictures I have of it scatter my photo books. It’s so wonderful to see it memorialized online and through historical articles. Thank you so much :):)

  3. Lynn Clotilde Spillane says

    My mother, Ernestine Wagner Beckwith was the daughter of Clotilde Kern Wagner, who was a sister to Ernest Kern. How wonderful to find this post, it certainly brought back many wonderful memories of family gatherings and thoughts of people I haven’t seen in so many years. Thank you so much.
    Lynn Clotilde Spillane

  4. I have a treasured old wool jacket/blazer that an aunt gave me close to 50 years ago. The tag inside says “Timely Fashions, The Ernst Kern Co. Detroit”. I was trying to date the jacket and found this site. Thank you for posting about the Ernst Kern Company.

  5. Cornell Osier says

    I find this very interesting. My aunt took me downtown on Saturday’s we always took me to Kerns they had little trinkets that she would buy for me. Then we would go across the street to SS Kresgies for lunch at the counter. I always got a cheeseburger with fries and a Coke. I loved to spin around on the stools. This was in the mid to late 50s

  6. Cornell Osier says

    Oh by the way we took the electric bus from the fairgrounds down Woodward Avenue

  7. Nora Beck says

    In a basket of sewing things bought at a second-hand store in Tennessee I found a little needle case that could double as a darning egg for little socks. Printed on its side is “Kern’s/49th Anniversary/Detroit. By my calculation the little case was distributed in 1932.

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