Stein Mart was founded in 1908 by Sam Stein, a Russian Jewish immigrant who opened his first store in Greenville, Mississippi. The department store carried general merchandise until his son, Jake Stein, took over the company upon his father Sam's death in 1932. The store then redirected its focus toward discounted clothing.
Under Jay Stein's leadership, Stein Mart grew from three stores in 1977 to 40 stores in 1990, and then to 123 stores by the end of 1996. In determining the prime locations for new Stein Mart stores, management targeted cities with populations of 125,000 or more and relied on demographic research regarding income, education, and occupation to help predict whether a community might support a discounter of designer merchandise.
In 2002, Jay Stein stepped down as CEO but remained as chairman and the largest Stein Mart shareholder. John H. Williams Jr. served as vice chairman and chief executive officer of the company from September 2001 to February 2003 and still serves on the Stein Mart board.
In 2003, Stein Mart introduced the "Real Shopper" campaign with support from Orlando-based advertising agency, Fry Hammond Barr. This multimedia advertising campaign features real Stein Mart shoppers chosen via casting calls held throughout the country. Each season six to eight female shoppers are chosen to appear in the campaign and are featured in Stein Mart's Sisterhood book online.
Michael D. Fisher held the position of president and chief executive officer of the company from 2003 to August 2007. At that time, Fisher resigned and Linda McFarland Farthing was appointed as president and chief executive officer of Stein Mart. Farthing had been a longtime Stein Mart board member and held the president and CEO position for one year. Upon her resignation in 2008, David H. Stovall Jr., served as CEO until 2011. In September 2011, he announced his retirement, leaving Jay Stein to take over as the interim CEO.
For decades Stein Mart has leased its shoe department, currently working with DSW, Inc. In 2010, Stein Mart started working with Perfumania in 2010 to stock an assortment of fragrances.
Stein Mart expanded their home department in 2010, adding houseware and décor for the house. The "Boutique" portion of the store offers women special occasion clothing. The "Attitudes" section of the store carries clothing for women.
On April 25, 2014, Stein Mart announced that the Board of Directors had created the Office of the President, appointing D. Hunt Hawkins and Brian R. Morrow to share the office. Both reported to CEO Jay Stein. Hawkins had been with the company for 20 years, starting as Senior Vice President of Human Resources and COO since December 2011. Morrow joined Stein Mart as Chief Merchandising Officer in February 2010 after holding similar positions with Macy's North/Marshall, Mervyn's and Macy's West.
In October 2010, due to popular demand by Stein Mart shoppers, the retailer began offering limited online shopping with Ship from Store for shorter delivery times.
In 2013, the company reported a profit of $25.6 million with operation of 260 stores in 29 states.
On March 15, 2016, Stein Mart named Dawn Robertson as CEO, replacing Jay Stein. Robertson resigned as CEO in September 2016 at which time D. Hunt Hawkins was named Interim CEO.
On January 26, 2017, the company announced the appointment of MaryAnne Morin as president and "interim" was removed from the CEO title of D. Hunt Hawkins.
In October 2017, in response to the downward trend of the company's stock price, the company announced plans to improve its financials by cutting 10% of their corporate staff, trimming inventory by 15%, slashing $22 million from the prior year's capital expenses, and suspending the 4th quarter stock dividend.
In January 2018, Stein Mart announced that it would explore strategic alternatives for the company. In February 2020, Stein Mart entered into a deal to make the company private; its common stock would no longer be listed on any public stock market. The transaction is subject to approval by Stein Mart shareholders and was "expected to close in the first half of calendar year 2020."
When Stein Mart's Director of Stores Gary Pierce requested early retirement on May 1, 2018, he agreed to remain with the company until the end of February 2019. The Form 8-K filed by Stein Mart stated that Executive Vice President Pierce would stay, “in order to provide for an orderly transition of his duties”.
In August 2020, the company announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that it planned to close all of its 279 stores. Stein Mart continues to operate as an online retailer, of which is not related to the former company.
On August 12, 2020, Stein Mart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Later, it was announced that all Stein Mart locations would be closing permanently. All stores were closed by October 2020.