Friday, August 31, 2007

The Three Faces of Lucky

In 1959, Lucky began to expand upon their basic 20,000 square foot grocery store footprint with the opening of the first “Lucky Discount Center”, a new concept which added a variety of non-food items – clothing, small appliances, outdoor products and more in combination with their regular supermarket departments. Many of the Discount Centers featured liquor and pharmacy departments as well. These stores ranged from roughly 30,000 to 65,000 square feet.

The following year, Lucky purchased the forerunner of their Gemco membership store division. Lucky proceeded to open several more Gemcos through the ensuing years in their California market, eventually expanding in the later 60's and into the 1970's to Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, Texas and the metropolitan Chicago area. In the eastern states and Chicago, the stores were operated under the slightly different name “Memco”. These stores sold the above-mentioned items, along with greatly expanded apparel offerings plus several leased operations – including shoe, jewelry and automotive departments, gas stations and snack bars, a cleaners and an optometry shop. The Gemco and (and later Memco) stores averaged 100 to 110,000 square feet.

These photos show nice examples of each of the three faces of Lucky. They date from 1966, a year in which the chain grew to 166 standard supermarkets, 18 discount centers and 11 Gemco stores.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Late Fifties Lucky

By the late 1950's, Lucky had moved away from the use of gigantic pylons and the classic Loewy look and began to employ a wide variety of interesting designs, including this great "zig-zag" from Livermore, California in 1959. The "three squares" theme, however, continued to appear from time to time in modified form.
Thanks to Scott of the great BIGMallRat site for identifying the location of this store - "2930 Pacific Ave., which was the site of Nob Hill Foods up until recently. At some point, Lucky's moved downtown. Nob Hill came in and added onto the building and the exterior was remodeled (the entire shopping center was remodeled)".

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lucky Stores 1950's - Three Squares

I've often wondered if the famed 65-foot tall Lucky Stores pylons, designed by the great Raymond Loewy, were meant to signify "three square meals a day". The materials for subject meals, of course, were available at everyday low prices from your friendly neighbor - the local Lucky supermarket. Oh, well. Someone please fill us in if you know the story.

Raymond Loewy was arguably the preeminent industrial designer of the 20th century, having designed everything from the famous WWII era Lucky Strike bullseye cigarette pack, to the Pennsylvania Railroad's streamlined steam locomotives to Evinrude outboard motors. By the 1960's, the Loewy firm seemingly had a hand in everything - automotive design, consumer products design and of course, retail store design. In effect, everything we retro-nuts love today. In 1947, Lucky Stores commissioned Loewy to design a new store prototype, as a Time Magazine article put it, "to see if barnlike, depressing super markets can be imbued with some beauty”. A Wall Street Journal article called the design “ten years ahead of its time”, a phrase used to no small extent in the chain’s press releases.

These new stores were a far cry from the chain's early stores. Lucky Stores, Inc. was founded in 1931 as “Peninsula Stores, Ltd.” with the assumption of (Piggly Wiggly founder) Clarence Saunders' grocery stores - in Burlingame, San Mateo, Redwood City, Palo Alto and San Jose. By 1935, seven more stores had been added, including the company’s first stores in the East Bay, in Berkeley and Oakland.

The photo above was taken circa 1953-56. 1956 was a banner year for Lucky, in which the company entered new geographic markets through the acquisition of three chains – thirty-two Cardinal stores in the Sacramento area, six Food Basket stores in San Diego and ten Jim Dandy stores in L.A., through a merger with Dolly Madison International Foods. Lucky also built nine new stores that year.

I’m not sure of the location of the store pictured, but it very strongly resembles the McHenry Shopping Center Lucky store which opened in 1953 in Modesto, as pictured in a newspaper photo at the time of opening. It shares major design elements (although the arrangement varies) with many other Luckys of the period, including Palo Alto’s Alma Plaza Lucky, the subject of a heroic, yet sadly failed preservation effort.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Every Day's A Special Day

One more look at Thriftimart for now, this time a set of great interior views. These 1964 photos are from a brand new Thriftimart, which was located at 4030 Centinela Avenue in Culver City, California. I love the shield above the liquor department. Must have focus-grouped yellow tones for this one.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Thriftimart Class of '63

By the early 1960's, some new Thriftimarts featured toned-down "T's", possibly owing to zoning or cost reasons. Even so, the stores provided very nice examples of mid-century modern supermarket design, as these photos of new units from 1963 attest. The first photo is of a Santa Ana store (1308 Edinger Street), the second is from 1117 Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thriftimart - The Tall T

Burning bright above the L.A. Basin at dusk were the red, 40-foot tall "T's" - the iconic logo of the late, great Thriftimart supermarket chain. A fondly-remembered sight of Angelenos (and selected San Diegans and Vegas-ites), these gigantic signs emerged on the local landscape through the 50's and 60's.

The company that would eventually be named Thriftimart, Inc. was created in 1930 when a group of former A&P managers headed by Roger Laverty, Sr. purchased a company called Fitzsimmons Stores, Ltd. (the name the company would bear until well into the 1950's). In its earlier years, the company grew through acquisitions, including the 9-store "Thriftimart" and the 17-store Roberts Markets chains in the 1940's. In 1955, the company purchased the Smart & Final Iris Company, which at the time was strictly a wholesale operation.

By 1961, the company had over 60 stores and had renamed itself after its famous trademark. This photo is circa 1965.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Alpha Beta - Keepin' It Local

One of the great features of Alpha Beta supermarkets from the early 50's through the 70's was the company's practice of showing the town's name on the face of the local stores. If there were multiple Alpha Beta markets in the same town, the name would often reflect the area of town, street or shopping center in which the store was located. It's suprising to me that over the years, no other retail chain (to my knowledge at least) has picked up on this fairly inexpensive way to help strengthen the identity bond with their local communities.
These 1957 photos are from the pre-Acme ownership era, and show the Covina store (opened in 1953) and the newer La Puente store.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Alpha Beta - The Early Acme Years

In the early 1960’s, a number of interesting trends took hold in the grocery industry. First, the progression (which began in the 1940’s) towards ever larger footprints for new stores continued at an intensified pace. Most new stores built in the early sixties were at least 15,000 square feet, with many upwards of 20 or even 30,000. Secondly, supermarket chains began to diversify into new businesses – including drugstores, general merchandise discount stores, quick-service restaurants and other ventures not directly related to their original business.

A third major trend that several large supermarket chains participated in was an expansion into far-flung territory through buyouts of other chains. Some examples are the 1964 merger of Boston-based Star Market into Chicago’s Jewel Tea Company and the purchase of the Los Angeles-based Market Basket chain by Kroger the previous year. Both of these acquisitions established their parent companies in new territory, far from home. Both parent companies, in these cases, wisely chose to maintain the original name and identity of the organizations they purchased.

Philadelphia-based American Stores Company, with a history dating back to 1917, was a major player on the East Coast, with 789 Acme Markets located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington D.C. by 1961. In January of that year, American (the company would change its name to Acme Markets, Inc. in 1962, and then revert to its original name in the mid-70’s) became a bi-coastal operation with its purchase of La Habra, California based Alpha Beta Food Markets, a 51-store grocery chain with a devoted customer base throughout Southern California. The new subsidiary was renamed Alpha Beta Acme Markets.

At the time Alpha Beta was acquired by American Stores, the company was aggressively expanding (as were most SoCal area chains) through the construction of new stores and major renovation of many existing stores, a policy that would continue under Acme. Many of the “streamline moderne” facades that were standard issue for AB through the forties and fifties were giving way to a new mid-century modern look – mosaic tile and aggregate facings with gold-anodized mesh screens hanging from the front awning. Alpha Beta’s mascot “Alphy” was given a place of honor on huge neon (or backlit, in some cases) signs that towered above the stores.

Pictured here are three stores from the early Alpha Beta Acme years – Harbor Avenue/Costa Mesa, La Mesa (San Diego) from 1964, and La Habra from the following year.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Gala Premiere - Studio City 1963

Here is the Grand Opening ad for the Studio City Market Basket store featured in the previous post. This ad appeared in the Pasadena Star-News on January 16, 1963. One of the interesting aspects of "Grand Opening" ads from these years is that they often featured photos or line drawings of the actual store in question. The line drawing in this case is a fairly accurate representation.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Market Basket Mayhem!!

Highly recommended viewing for fans of old supermarkets is the 1964 Jerry Lewis film “The Disorderly Orderly”. This film features le Jerry in typical fine form, wreaking havoc as he earnestly performs the duties of an entry-level job, this particular one being an orderly in a sanitarium. Our family digs this film, even though my wife is only 1/8th French!

The climactic scene features Jerry and company laying waste to the nearly-new Studio City, California Market Basket store, which was located at 11315 Ventura Boulevard. Not only is it funny, but it offers a rare, up-close look (especially when viewed in slow-motion) at a classic SoCal grocery store in the prime of its life. When you see this you’ll gasp, you’ll marvel, you’ll think “Man, they were running a heck of a promotion on Hi-C that day!”

A little background – the Market Basket chain of Southern California (not to be confused with the unaffiliated Texas and New England chains bearing the same name) was founded with a single store in Pasadena in 1930. By 1963, the year the Studio City store was opened, the company had 56 stores throughout L.A. and the surrounding regions. In October of that year the chain was acquired by Kroger, providing them a beachhead (no pun intended) in the vital Southern California market. Prior to this time, Kroger had no stores west of Kansas.

The Market Baskets’ most distinctive features, to be sure, were the gigantic “basket-weaved” signs that towered above each store. Even in an era when many L.A. thoroughfares boasted great, often outrageous signage, these babies really must have stood out.

A few more notes - the building still exists, although it is no longer a grocery store. Secondly, if you watch the film carefully, you can spot a “Cinnamon Cinder” nightclub near the Market Basket. There were several of these non-alcoholic clubs in the SoCal area in the early 60’s, and many now classic rock and roll acts played there. They were owned by legendary concert promoter and Newlywed Game host Bob Eubanks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Albertsons - At Your Service

Here's a 1966 photo showing an Albertsons store crew - an eager bunch, poised and ready to deliver a superior customer experience. The woman to the far left does appear to be somewhat anxious - perhaps she was new on the job. In the background is an archetypal "marina-style" Albertsons, as referred to in an earlier post.
By this time, Albertsons' market presence had grown to cover nine western states, with over 170 stores at year's end, adding 20-plus new stores a year. Interestingly, company founder and board chairman Joe Albertson continued to maintain his offices in a second-floor loft above the company's first store, which opened in Boise in 1939. By the mid-60's, this first store had been expanded to 25,000 square feet from the original 7,500.