Sunday, June 29, 2008

Someone Was There at the Turn-Style...

…the girl with kaleidoscope eyes. Yes, it’s time to pay tribute to the only discount store chain to ever be mentioned* in a Beatles song. I’m referring of course to Turn-Style, a presence if never really the major discount player in the Chicago and Boston areas throughout the sixties and seventies.

Turnstyle Operating Corporation (in the early years the name “Turnstyle” was not hyphenated) was founded with their first store in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1957. By the end of 1961, the company had four self-service department stores in the greater Boston area, ranging in size from 45,000 feet to their largest store, a 70,000 square foot unit in Lawrence, Mass.

On February 28, 1962, Chicago’s Jewel Tea Co. completed a year-long acquisition of the Turnstyle organization through an exchange of stock. Having gotten their feet wet in the area of non-food sales with their merger with Osco Drug the previous year, Jewel was keen to expand to the larger general merchandise format that Turnstyle afforded. In combination with their supermarkets (and occasionally an Osco as well) the “Family Center” concept would offer customers the proverbial “one-stop shop” for many of their everyday needs. The Turnstyle acquisition served another purpose for Jewel as well as it became the company’s first expansion territory outside the Midwest, not counting its European investments. The familiarity with the Boston area that Jewel management gained would pave the way for their merger with Star Market the following year.

The Turnstyle stores, as the name implied, had an emphasis on apparel, but carried extensive lines of housewares, small appliances, sporting goods, hardware items and phonograph records among other items. They also featured a pharmacy and a “delightful snack bar in the middle of the store”.

Jewel wasted little time in opening the first Turnstyle units in their primary Midwest market, with the first store, a 110,000 square foot “Turnstyle Family Center” opening in Racine, Wisconsin in March 1962. Exactly a year later, two more virtually identical family centers were opened, one at 9449 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie, IL, and the other at 7342 Foster Avenue in Chicago’s Harlem-Foster Shopping Center.

The photo above features one of the above-mentioned early Turnstyle units. A broader view of the Skokie store can be seen on the Digital Past website (note the Eagle Food Center sign to the left of the photo. This was taken several years before their acquisition by California’s Lucky Stores chain). Below is a March 3, 1963 grand opening ad for the two stores which appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

*unintentionally

14 comments:

  1. Great post! Where do you get all this amazing information? Very impressive, I would have thought most of this info "lost to time", thanks so much for researching these stores so well and presenting them to us in such a fine fashion.

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  2. Thanks, Tim!

    For years, I thought it was lost to time as well, but the internet has proven to be a resource beyond what any of us could have dreamed. Most of the info I get comes from online newspaper archives (an incredible resource for both company stories and ads), Time's archive (which is now free!), and also from old trade and company publications I've dug up. Old retail books from the 50's and 60's that were intended to give operating advice to chain stores now serve as fine history books, and a lot of the basic facts in my posts have come from them. I find them often more accurate than later publications. And thanks for the kind words on the presentation, they're much appreciated!

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  3. Sure, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" mentions Turn-Style...but who can forget the White Front album?

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  4. Jim - LOL, that's great! I wracked my brain trying to think of other ones.

    One of these days I need to do another post on White Front stores. Mind if I use that? :)

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  5. In Moline I remembered going to Turnstyle to do family grocery shopping with my parents. While, they were in the grocery section , my siblings and I were checking out toy section. Meijer and Supertarget remind me of Turnstyle.

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  6. I actually worked at a Turn*Style in Schaumburg, Illinois from 1974-1976. What a great time that was. Many memories. Of course, it was Elton John's cover of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" that was blaring on our radios back then...

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  7. Joseph - Thanks. The Schaumburg Turn-Style is the one I remember shopping at the most. And I totally missed the Elton John "Lucy" connection in realation to the date - you have a sharp memory!

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  8. My name is Randy Hicks. I worked at a Turn Style store located on the East side of Indianapolis IN in the early 70's. It was a great place to work. The best part of the job was my department Manager, a really great guy by the name of Tony Denson. Unfortunately, he may be passed away, but I'm not sure. I would love to find out how I could get in touch with my great ex boss. If anyone can help me with this, I would really appreciate it.

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  9. I helped set up the Turnstyle store in Racine WI, and later became a co-manager of the Jewel store attached.

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  10. Do we know what location this is?

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  11. Turn Style stores are NOT what the Beatles were referring to. (Picture yourself in a train, AT THE STATION, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Suddenly someone appears "At the Turnstile". The girl with Kaleidescope eyes.

    Turnstile:

    A structure of four horizontally revolving arms pivoted atop a post and set in a gateway or opening in a fence to allow the controlled passage of people.

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  12. Anonymous - The title of this post was meant strictly as a joke. I try to work in Beatles references on the site whenever I can! ;)

    The "Turn-Style" name was actually intended as a pun, to mean a combination of "high traffic and fashion" or something along that line. In later years, the Turn-Style stores adopted a stylized turnstile for their logo.

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  13. My wife and I met at the Grand Rapids, MI, Turn Style (Plainfield Avenue) in 1971. I worked in the shoe department, she in cosmetics. Been married 34 years. I was terminated for pranking on the PA system (for the benefit of friends who worked there, some of whom did their own prank pages). We had fun, though. some of the memorable pages were "Helen Keller, please come to Sight & Sound," "Henry Ford to Automotive," "Pete Moss to the Garden Center," "Customer assistance in Hardware by the dual toilet seats."

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