Without a doubt, the employees of this particular Grand Union were “on their toes” on a regular basis, due in no small measure to the fact that Grand Union’s corporate honchos held court directly above their store. The photos above, from 1952, show the company’s brand-spanking new corporate offices which opened in November 1951 (the store opened the following April) in the Elmwood Shopping Center at 180 Broadway in East Paterson, New Jersey.
In 1950, Grand Union announced their intention to vacate their longtime offices at 50 Church Street in Manhattan and move to Bergen County, NJ, a bustling, densely populated suburban area located across the river from New York. Many American companies from the 50’s through the 70’s forsook their downtown offices (A&P would finally move from their NYC offices to Montvale, NJ nearly 25 years later) for sprawling, beautifully landscaped suburban campuses, but a shopping center? This was something else again, and it garnered Grand Union a fair amount of favorable publicity in such publications as the New York Herald-Tribune, Fortune, Time and Architectural Forum, from which the above photos were taken. In both perception and reality, the move allowed Grand Union to “get close” to their customers.
The Grand Union store at this location was understandably used as a proving ground for the chain, and one of the obvious manifestations of this was in the area of store layout, as clearly shown in the store’s “planogram” (to use a modern-day term) shown in the last photo. The Elmwood store layout was aptly likened in a June 1955 Fortune magazine article to a wagon wheel, with “numerous aisles that fan out as do the spokes of a wheel”. A striking departure from standard supermarket aisle design, this unconventional design was championed by Grand Union president Lansing Shield (lionized in previous posts) with a view toward using it in more of the chain’s stores.
It’s interesting to ponder why this unique layout ultimately failed to win favor over the age-old parallel aisle design that still predominates in the supermarket business. Perhaps customers were consistently confused by the layout or over time found it tiresome. Maybe older shoppers had difficulty navigating the different departments. I’m fairly certain that cost played a part, with extra travel time required to restock the shelves. Another probable factor would have been the need to maximize shelf space as the number of items the average grocery store stocked absolutely skyrocketed in the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s.
In the summer of 1956, the flagship store was damaged by fire, forcing it to close for three months. A temporary store was set up in a circus-style tent on the parking lot. A slightly expanded version of the store reopened, with the glassed-in vestibule extended toward the direction of the parking lot. In 1966, a two-story, 100,000 square foot Grand Way department store was built at the opposite end of the shopping center.
On a recent business trip to New Jersey, I decided one evening to swing by the ol’ Elmwood in hopes of taking a close look at the store and HQ, curious to see who now inhabited it. To my surprise, the shopping center was still there, but the Grand Union headquarters building and store were completely gone! The headquarters portion was torn down and replaced with single story stores and a standard-issue Walgreens now stands where the GU store was in the foreground of the first photo. Time most certainly does march on. The Grand Way store is fairly intact from an exterior standpoint and is now a (Big)Kmart.
And by the way, if you look for East Paterson, New Jersey on a current map, you won’t find it. In 1973, the town’s name was changed to Elmwood Park.