Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The fabulous fazio's

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.

15 comments:

  1. Sorry---gotta provide you with a correction: Foodtown and Stop-n-Shop were entirely separate. Julie Kravitz was one of the founders of Foodtown, however, that chain was sold to ACF-Wrigley of Detroit (later known as Allied Supermarkets) in 1956. ACF-Wrigley sold the stores to Cook Coffee (later known as Cook United) in about 1960. Cook Coffee was the parent of Pick-n-Pay supermarkets in Cleveland.

    Stop-n-Shop was one of several cooperatives that were served by Seaway, a local wholesaler in about 1956. Another co-op supplied by Seaway was Bi-Rite (which went back & forth between Seaway and other wholesalers). Fazio's eventually joined Stop-n-Shop as it grew to operate stores that were competitive in size and range with (and often larger) than Cleveland's major chains. The original Stop-n-Shop operators included some very small stores, but those shifted to other co-ops over time.

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  2. Thanks for setting this straight, Traveler. I had a gap in my information and timeline and drew the wrong conclusion. I've made a correction to the post.

    The whole Cleveland food store scene during that period is fascinating to me. A relatively small group of family-owned businesses who dominated the local market for so long(Fazio, Costa, Kravitz, Rini, etc.) and went from affiliates to partners to competitors. There's a soap-opera like quality to it all. You almost need a scorecard to keep up!

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  3. Oh Gosh!!! my grandma eats the same kind only by Oscar Meyer! It's like liverwurst paste you put on a cracker. She also goes for that Kraft pimento spread and saves the jars for drinking glasses

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  4. Amanda - Those Kraft cheese spreads in the tiny jars have been around forever, it seems. I think I have an old picture that shows a display of those jars from the 60's or so. I'll have to try to dig it up and post it. They were very popular years ago.

    I think the Gramdmas of the world are their main customer now!

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  5. I love the look of that last photo, the family center, Truly amazing! Any word on what happened to the family center and that location?

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  6. And now in Akron we have...Wal-Mart Supercenter, Acme, Giant Eagle, and the lucky westsiders get Buehlers, a very lovely local chain. The Giant Eagle is a rip-off but I go for the Fuel Perks (credit towards free or reduced-price gas at their own gas stations). I have yet to visit a clean Acme store. The nearest Buehlers is 24 miles away. And I won't touch Wal-Mart food with a ten foot pole. That leaves me with...well, a letter writing campaign to Meijer and Kroger, begging them to appear (or reappear, as the case may be) in Akron. I know we have fallen on ecomonic hard times here, but some of us need a REAL place to shop!

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  7. Didi - I wish I knew the actual location. A great looking store, for sure.

    Adrienne - I'm surprised that neither Kroger or Meijer is in your area. It would certainly make sense, considering both companies are based not all that far away from you. Also, I've read that the Fuel Perks program has been a big draw for Giant Eagle.

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  8. Now those are some good looking grocery store interiors. Not as funky as the '70s Kroger stores I remember so fondly, but very classy.

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  9. I remember shopping at the Fazio's on Pearl Road in Parma in the early '70s. My dad worked for WUAB, so in the summer mom and I would often meet him for lunch (usually at the Ground Round or someplace in Parmatown Mall), then shop at Fazio's before heading home. Great memories!

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  10. Steven - I agree. And those Kroger 70's interiors were great, from what I've seen. I lived in Nashville through the 90's and shopped in several 70's era Krogers, wishing I could have seen them when they were new.

    St. Pete - Thanks for sharing your Fazio's memory. I always liked the Ground Round. They used to have a Treasure Chest-like prize box that kids could reach in and pick a toy out of. Inexpensive toys, but they sure made it fun. Seems like most of the Ground Rounds cleared out of the Chicago area by the late 70's, though I think some remained beyond that.

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  11. Kroger must have gottent the inspiration for its "Superstore" prototype from Fazio's. Many of the decor features as along a similar vein, but different enough to not have been an outright copy.

    The first Kroger Superstore opened in the Akron suburb of Barberton in 1972.

    Strongly entrenched regional chains drove Kroger(and A&P and National/Loblaw's) of Northeast Ohio in the 70's and 80's. The decline and demise of local operatons of Fazio's, Pick-n-Pay/Finast/Tops, Thorofare/Pennyfare has left speculation that Kroger may return to the region. Giant Eagle's dominance coupled with low population growth(declines in many areas) and slow economic growth leave the region doubtful for a Kroger expansion anytime some. The chain tends to spend money where it generates the money and make defensive expansion/fill-in acquisitions.

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  12. Traveler:

    After the "price war" Chuck Fazio left Fazio's to head up a division of Allied Supermarkets-- I believe their Detroit chain was called Farmer Jack.

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  13. my father work for fazio. he was a store director and he recently passed away, among his things were some ads and the original plastics ready for the printing press. we do not know what year we can onyly guess from the late 60's to 70-73. in cleveland ohio his name is thomas van tilburg if any one can remeber my email address is destinyforme@hotmail.com

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  14. Does any one know what part a vice president named feemen ong played in all this.This would have been around the 1980s bangshot9@aol.com

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  15. can anybody provide Information
    about a Fisher Foods, Inc. Debenture RM16392 issued 1978
    value $ 1000,00??

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