By the early 1960’s, Fisher Foods was in trouble. The company began losing ground in the late 1950’s, posting a net loss for 1959. The losses would grow, topping $300,000 in 1963. By 1964, with 90% of Fisher’s stores now losing money, the company was ripe for a takeover. In January of that year, a group of Cleveland investors (which, importantly, was made up of career supermarket operators) bought shares in Fisher totaling approximately 55% of the value of the company.
The group was composed of members of the Stop-N-Shop Super Markets Association (no relation to the New England or California Stop and Shops), a Cleveland-based supermarket cooperative. Several members of the Stop-N-Shop group were previously part of another Cleveland-based cooperative, Foodtown Supermarkets, which was formed in 1948 and sold to ACF-Wrigley supermarkets in 1956. (Thanks to "Traveler" for straightening out my facts on this. See the comments section for this post for more interesting details.) The individuals leading the buyout were Carl and John Fazio and Joe Fana of Fazio’s Stop-N-Shop, Sam and Frank Costa of Costa’s Stop-N-Shop, and Seaway Foods, an Aurora, Ohio-based wholesale grocer. Joining the new management group would be Julius (Julie) Kravitz, the executive director of the Stop-N-Shop association. Interestingly, the prospective new ownership group owned only seven supermarkets between them, compared with Fisher’s over 70 stores at the time. The Fisher name would be maintained for the new corporate entity and for a time on the stores as well.
In February 1965, the group made an offer to buy out the remaining shares of the company from the Fisher, Salmon and Conway families. A stockholders meeting was set for the following month, and despite some very public objections from a few relatively small stockholders, the transaction went through. Fisher Foods had a new, energized group of leaders and a new lease on life.
Right away, the Fisher-Fazio team set about modernizing and upgrading the stores, and placing an increased emphasis on meats, deli, produce and wines. It didn’t take long for sales results to improve, and within the first year profits began to rebound as well. The company began to expand into other Ohio markets, including the Akron area, where the first Fazio’s “Family Center”, a 60,000 square foot food and general merchandise combination store, would open in 1968.
In 1968, Fisher made its first acquisition outside the Ohio market with the purchase of Chicago's Dominick’s Finer Foods, an 18-store chain with locations throughout the city and in the (mostly north) near suburbs. A family owned business with an excellent reputation and strengths comparable to Fazio’s, Dominick’s was still a relatively small player compared to Chicago market leader Jewel Tea, a still fairly strong National Tea, and a still-participating A&P, but that would change in the coming years as Dominick’s would grow tremendously, eventually taking the number-two spot in the market. Dominick DiMatteo, Jr., company president and son of Dominick’s founder, would be named a vice president of Fisher Foods.
Fisher also entered the fast food business in 1969 when it acquired a stake in Columbus-based National Fast Food Corporation, owners of the Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips chain. Famous British actor that he was, I remember ol’ Arthur best as the Constable in the movie Mary Poppins, though he played many other film roles. As part of the agreement, Fisher took over territory rights for Arthur Treacher’s in the Cleveland and Chicago markets, totaling at the time over 100 restaurants. One more company Fisher took over during the late sixties was Clabers, a seven store chain of “junior” department stores in the Pittsburgh area.
The new Fazio’s stores sported a fresh, interesting appearance that to my mind preceded the “70’s look” for the industry as a whole by at least a couple of years. In 1967, Fisher opened a 36,000 square foot Fazio's store in the new Midway Mall in Elyria, Ohio, that received very favorable reviews in the supermarket industry press and would set the style for Fazio’s stores into the next decade. This store featured a dark red brick façade, with a cedar-shingled mansard roof above the store entrance and relatively small wood-framed windows. The cedar-shingled motif continued inside the store with rooflike awnings above the delicatessen and bakery departments. Freezer cases were an elegant burnt umber, a contrast to the pastel colors that were popular in years past.
The first five photos were taken between 1969 and 1972 and are typical of the Fazio’s stores of that period. The exterior photo is extremely similar in appearance to the Elyria store mentioned above, and the interior shots show minor differences, but are fairly close as well. Some of you may remember the very 70’s Kraft “Squeez-A-Snak” tubes which are shown in the foreground of the second photo. These were among my Grandmother’s favorites. If I remember right, they came in about four or five flavors, some much less appetizing than others.
The sixth photo, from 1968, shows the entrance to the first Fazio’s Family Center in Akron, Ohio.