Stein Mart began as a general store in Mississippi, founded in 1908 by Russian immigrant Sam Stein, who passed the store down to his son Jake Stein. The company expanded from three locations to 40 between 1977 and 1990 under the leadership of Sam's grandson, Jay Stein.
Stein Mart originally offered a wide selection of general merchandise, but it became a specialty outlet for discounted family clothing under Jake Stein. The company dramatically undercut standard department store pricing, allowing it to capture much of the local market by the end of the 1970s. Stein Mart went public in 1992, fueling growth that allowed it to encompass 126 stores by the end of 1996, and Jay Stein stepped down to become the chairman of the company's board in 2002. He remains the largest shareholder of Stein Mart as of 2015.
Like many retailers, the company struggled during the economic plunge that followed the terrorist attacks on America in 2001. Jay Stein notes that Stein Mart opened only 12 new locations and closed 16 stores in 2003 in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times. By 2013, the company boasted 260 locations nationwide and revenues of $1.263 billion, continuing its focus on discounted clothing.