Thursday, April 3, 2008

It Was Fresher at Fisher's

Fisher Foods, Cleveland’s largest grocery chain for a major chunk of its 80-year history, was founded in 1907 as Fisher Brothers Company. The Fisher Brothers, Manning and Charles, were natives of Jersey City, New Jersey and got their start in the grocery business in New York City in the waning years of the 19th century, where Manning worked for James Butler, a grocer who owned 150 stores in the city. Eager to make their own mark in the business, the brothers set out for the greener pastures of Cleveland and opened their first store there at 4623 Lorain Avenue.

The Fishers were joined in Cleveland by Irish-born Joseph Salmon, who had also worked for Butler, and would manage that first Cleveland store. Years later, upon Manning Fisher’s death in 1931, Salmon would assume the presidency of the company. Manning’s son Ellwood would eventually take the company reins in the late thirties. The company grew quickly, to 24 stores in its first five years, then to over 120 stores by the mid-twenties, surpassing 300 stores in the decade that followed.

Like many supermarket chains, Fisher stayed in step with industry trends. The company launched self-service with their first “Master Market”, a larger (average 12,000 square foot) format that would become their standard, in October 1937. The company would build over 50 of these by the dawn of World War II. Also, as with a large number of other chains, Fisher’s consolidation move towards larger stores would lower their overall store count into the late forties and early fifties. Throughout this period, the company would restrict its market area to the greater Cleveland area, as an Elyria Chronicle-Telegram article put it, “as far west as Oberlin, as far east as Ashtabula, and as far south as Medina and Bedford”.

The photos, in reverse chronological order, are as follows: a 1956 store, unidentified location, from Chain Store Age, the second photo of a brand new Fisher Foods Master Market which opened in Elyria, Ohio in June, 1952 and last, a photo of the very first Fisher Bros. store. The latter two photos are from the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.


  1. The Elyria quote is a little inaccurate. Fisher had stores as far west as Norwalk, as far east as Geneva (which is a bit short of Ashtubula), and as far South as Warren and Mansfield. The Warren stores dated from the late 50s/early 60s, most of the rest were older--late 40s/early 50s. The Mansfield stores (there were two) were updated and still functioned well into the 70s. The Geneva store (an oldie) was sold in late 1965, along with several others to the Nitti brothers, who had a short-lived run as a chain. The Norwalk store was sold at about the same time.

    Before 1937, Fisher was already operating super markets, although they were smaller than 12,000 sf. It's now been altered quite a bit, but one survivor of that era was at E 149th & Lake Shore Blvd. in Cleveland.

    Fisher stayed out of Akron and Canton, which were larger but closer markets than Mansfield et al. There was (and continues to be) an unrelated "Fishers Foods" chain in Canton. The Fazio regime ultimately built stores in Akron and Canton, as well as Youngstown around 1970 under the Fazio's banner; they had pretty mixed luck and those stores were gone by the early 80s. Akron was/is dominated by the local Acme chain (no relation to the one in Philly). National Tea's Loblaw stores and Kroger dominated Warren-Youngstown, along with some independents. Loblaw did less well in Warren-Youngstown and never expanded beyond 4 stores on greater Cleveland's periphery which went up around the end of the 50s.

    The Fisher family's in-laws, the Conways, ran the chain before the Fazio interests took it over. The chain was top heavy with hires who were related to the Conways and others in management; people connected to those folks were getting hired, even as the chain was otherwise cutting back on staffing due to declining sales and earnings. A few years before selling to the Fazio group, a Florida group considered buying the chain.

    Fisher continued to build new stores and try new things almost to the end of the pre-Fazio era. they opened a store at Severance Center mall in 1963 that had live lobsters for sale. That store was huge when it opened and continued for function for decades afterward, later as a Finast.

  2. Those are some wonderful photo memories. I am too young to recall going to Fisher Foods first hand but my parents and my aunt, uncle and cousin remember it pretty well. Fazio's they remember even better. I remember some years back I had a photo of the Fazio's logo on my screenname that I found somewhere online and when my mother saw it she beamed with excitement.

    Minus mansard roofs, it seems that Fisher Foods had some great looking stores architecurally.

  3. Cool!

    I love old school grocery stores!!!

  4. Traveler - It may have been more accurate had I included the date of the quote, which was 1952, or at least it would've been in better context. It would be great to see that 1937 store, to see if any original details remain. Also, it's interesting to hear how Fisher tried to innovate right up to the time of the buyout.

    Didi - Both the Fisher and Fazio stores are great looking,I agree. Hopefully your family these likes these photos.

    Mark -Thanks, and so do I!

  5. I'll have to take a camera next time I'm in Cleveland. There are many circa late 30s master markets still around, although most have been heavily remodeled.

    BTW, didn't know if you've ever heard it on the basis of the title, but in the early 60s, Fisher's radio ads would open and close with "It's fresher at Fisher's and that's understood; it's fresher at Fisher's and that means good, sometimes tagged with "and S&H green stamps, you bet".

  6. Traveler - I'd love to see (and would be very happy to post) those photos if you get a chance to take them.

    I had seen the slogan in print before but never knew it was part of a jingle. That's great!

  7. Good eveninig. Several here seem knowledgeable about Fisher Foods. I'm trying to find information about my Grandfather, Patrick Grady, an Irish immigrant, who according to a 1947 newspaper article I have, became CEO of Fisher Foods in the mid-1940's. Mr. Grady lived at 2305 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, and prior to marrying my Grandmother, apparently had a son thru his first marriage, also named Patrick Grady. A close associate of my Grandather at Fisher was named Tim Conway, if that should ring any bells.

    I'm specifically trying to find where the personnel/Human Resource records from Fisher Foods in those days may be stored, as I'm trying to locate exact detail regarding the date and location in Ireland of my Grandfather's birth.

    Any info possible would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

  8. Bill - I have a 1953 newspaper article that I used as the basis for some of the information in this post that has an interesting anecdote about your Grandfather and his Irish heritage. I'll be glad to email you a .pdf of it if you'll send me your email address at

    As far as personnel records go, the successor company to Fisher is Riser Foods, based in Bedford Heights, Ohio. You might want look them up, although I'd be amazed if they retained records back that far. Perhaps they donated them to some historical entity. Since he was their CEO, you never know!

    Good Luck!

  9. I'm trying to reconstruct the entire Fisher's jingle. I'm missing the third line:

    You'll find it's fresher at Fishers day after day,

    You'll find that Fishers is fresher the garden fresh way;


    So to feed your fam-i-ly, go to Fishers when you shop.


  10. the first picture looks like a chain of stores in canton and massillon ohio called fisher food not sure if their any relation to the fisher fazio chain out of cleveland??