Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Food Fair Phenomenon

For much of the 20th century, one of America’s most prominent supermarket chains was Philadelphia-based Food Fair Stores, Inc. A powerhouse in their primary Eastern Seaboard markets - Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, Eastern New York, Northern New Jersey and Baltimore, the Food Fair empire would become a significant market factor in Florida and eventually extend as far away as California.

Known as “Union Premier Food Stores, Inc.” until 1942 (although the stores were called “Food Fair” long before that), the company was founded by brothers Samuel and George Friedland with a single butcher shop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1921, starting a chain that would grow to over 20 grocery stores in their first decade.

Food Fair was one of the earliest chains to follow the “King Kullen” (a New York-based store acclaimed to have been the first supermarket) model, starting with a large, no-frills self-service market in Harrisburg in 1933. By the late thirties the entire chain consisted of exclusively supermarkets - as Time magazine put it, they “dumped all their small stores, plowed every dime into supers”. This approach put Food Fair in excellent competitive position vs. A&P, who were notoriously slow to discard their small store footprints and counter service.

The above photos are circa 1949, showing the exterior of the Collingswood, New Jersey store and a checkout view, location unknown. By this time the company had 113 stores. As a side note, Food Fair had opened its first store in the Florida market in June 1948, and a year and a half later had ten stores in greater Miami.


  1. Man, if supermarket workers today had to keep wearing those goofy caps they would stage a revolt. LOL!

  2. You know, I kinda like the caps. I guess they were part of an overall clean-cut image that's not seen much today. A few weeks back, the "Katize" blog mentioned this site as part of an article about old supermarket websites, and they showed some photos from Dan Goodsell's "The Imaginary World" website:

    One of the commenters made a profound observation about how the photos reminded him "of the time when these jobs paid a respectable wage and help was professional". I definitely agree.

  3. I think one of the female customers in that pic is a friend of my grandmas

  4. When I worked for Food Fair in the 60s we would always revolt against the goofy paper hats. If it was a grand opening and you were working on the front end, you had to wear them. Otherwise they pretty much left you alone. The grocery and produce guys never wore them. No one wanted to wear the clip on bow ties either. I always wore a black necktie and that satisfied the managers I worked for.

  5. This building is still there, and the exterior is basically intact. Its a Teamsters Union Hall (for as long as I remember)