The word "mart" is derived from "marct", a 15th century, Middle Dutch term. In the English language, it is defined as a fair or trading center.
By the early years of the 20th century, the term was being used in an agricultural context. References can be found to things such as "wheat mart" or "horse mart" auctions. Apparently, there was no use of mart in reference to the retail industry.
Mart began to be used in a wholesale / retail context as a result of the May 5, 1930 opening of Chicago's Merchandise Mart. Receiving mass media coverage it was the world's largest building; a distinction held until January 15, 1943, when Arlington, Virginia's Pentagon was dedicated.
In the post-World War II years, as the suburbanization of the nation got underway, mart became a popular buzz word. It was used extensively in newspaper write-ups, with the fledgling discount store industry adopting the term in a big way. The "discount mart" was born!
Within a few years there were Mammoth Mart, Miracle Mart, Valu-Mart, Gov-Mart, Gulf Mart, Villa-Mart, Unimart, FedMart, Worth Mart, Buckeye Mart, Baymart and Almart. In 1962, the most noteworthy mart-type stores of all came along...Kmart and Wal-Mart.
As the post-war era drew to a close, "mart" was relegated, more and more, to the status of an archaic, rarely-used term. In fact, had the Kmart and Wal-Mart chains not risen to such prominence, it is likely that, by now, the term would be out of usage altogether.
In this section, we shall cover the rise and fall of the nation's discount mart stores, many no more than a fading mercantile memory. Unfortunately, not every single mid-century discount chain is featured. I hope that I have included all of the major chains, as well as a good selection of smaller ones.