The Proffitt’s department store chain was started by D. W. Proffitt in Maryville, Tennessee, in 1919. Son Harwell Proffitt opened another Proffitt’s in Athens in 1965, and the first Knoxville location opened in West Town Mall in 1972. The Proffitt family expanded the business to four stores in East Tennessee before selling it in 1984 to a group of investors led by mall developer R. Brad Martin of Memphis. Fred Proffitt, the third generation of the family to run the business, retired from his position as president and chief executive officer in 1989. Martin then took over the operations of the company and formulated plans for future expansion. Proffitt’s began by buying other small regional retailers and opening more of its own stores. In 1994, the chain acquired McRae’s, a chain of twenty-eight stores based in Mississippi. Proffitt’s then became a holding company with two divisions.
The company later expanded to six divisions: Proffitt’s, with nineteen stores in the upper South; McRae’s, with thirty-one stores in the deep South; Younkers, with fifty stores in the Mid-west; Parisian, with forty stores in the South and Mid-west; Herberger’s, with thirty-seven stores in the Mid-west and Great Plains; and Carson Pirie Scott, with fifty-two stores in the Mid-west. Its merger with Carson Pirie Scott in October 1997 made Proffitt’s the fourth largest traditional department store company in the United States, operating 230 stores in twenty-four states. By the end of the year, company executives announced plans to move their headquarters from Knoxville to Birmingham, the home base of their profitable Parisian chain. Effective with the company’s September 1998 merger with Saks Holdings, Proffitt’s changed its name to Saks Incorporated. Today Proffitt’s is comprised of twenty-six department stores and is a member of the Saks Incorporated group.