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.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Frozen Food - It Just Tastes Expensive!

A circa 1964 shot of a frozen food case in a Chicago-area Jewel Food Store. The title of this post is taken from a Banquet frozen pie ad from about the same time. Clarence Birdseye, the pioneer of frozen food technology, had first marketed his frozen foods in 1930. By the 1960’s, a dizzying array of frozen vegetables, desserts and full meals (that great American institution, the TV Dinner) beckoned from cases like this in supermarkets everywhere.

Among the brand names visible in this photo – Mrs. Paul’s, Banquet, Pepperidge Farm (desserts on the upper right), Morton’s, Pet-Ritz, etc., are two Chicago legends – first, Sara Lee, which was founded in Chicago and named for 8-year old Sara Lee Lubin, daughter of founder Charles Lubin. By the time of this photo, the Kitchens of Sara Lee had become a division of Consolidated Foods and Sara Lee had long since become a national brand. Years later the entire corporation would adopt the name Sara Lee. The second legend I’m referring to, with a market base closer to home was Dressel’s, the makers of a superb line of frozen cakes including a very popular whipped cream cake. It was always a special treat when Mom (or Dad, as was frequently the case) would show up home with one of these.

One more note – the initials “E.V…” which are visible on the fascia behind the frozen food case stood for “Extra Value Trim”, Jewel’s meat trademark of the time. And dig that great tile pattern!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

White Hen Pantry, 1967

Mention 7-Eleven, and probably the first thing that comes to most people’s minds are the Slurpees that many of us guzzled as kids. Mention White Hen Pantry, a well-remembered Chicago and Boston-area convenience store chain, and the first things that come to my mind are the incredible iced brownies they used to sell. Over three-by-three inches square and darn near an inch tall, those Burny Bros. babies provided a guaranteed day long chocolate and sugar rush. And it’s a good thing we didn’t know about trans fats in those days.

The 1960’s were the breakout years for the convenience store industry. The first convenience stores – small roadside stores that specialized in sales of ice, milk , bread and few other staple items began to appear in the late 1920’s and early 30’s. Over time, these stores evolved into “small grocery stores”, adding a broader line of foods and various sundries to the mix. Ultimately, many convenience stores would add gasoline sales, either in partnership with a major oil company brand or through “private label” gas purchased through oil jobbers. By the late fifties and early sixties, convenience stores were fairly widespread nationally. The industry at the time was made up of a number of small regional convenience chains and one major player, the Dallas-based Southland Corporation, better known by the name of their stores - 7-Eleven. Ubiquitous in many Texas and Florida markets, The 60’s would see 7-Eleven become a national brand with Southland’s aggressive expansion into the Northeast, Midwest, Rocky Mountain and Southern California markets. In January 1966, Southland announced plans to open its first stores in the Chicago area, with 25 stores scheduled to open within the year, nearly all (initially) in the Northwest suburbs. These stores would report to Southland’s new district headquarters in Rolling Meadows.

Jewel Tea Company, owner of Chicago’s market leading Jewel Food Stores and the recently acquired Star Markets, a popular Boston-area chain, was already well underway with its own convenience store concept at the time. Jewel’s first convenience stores were slated to open in the Chicago area in 1965 under the less-than memorable name of “Kwik Shoppe”.

Around that same time, Jewel made an investment with an Illinois agricultural firm, the White Hen Egg Farm, in order to ensure a steady supply of high-quality eggs to their retail stores. Wisely, they ditched the Kwik Shoppe name (not to be confused with Kwik-E-Mart, heh heh) and adopted the name “White Hen Pantry” for the new stores. Tapping into nostalgia for simpler times with a milk-glass hen dish as their trademark, the first three White Hen Pantries were opened as planned in 1965.

White Hen Pantry was unique within the Jewel organization in that it was a franchised operation, with each store independently owned and operated. For a franchise fee of $15,000 ($12,000 of which went for inventory), Jewel would set a new White Hen owner/operator up with a complete business – store, inventory, training, accounting and distribution services, a fairly sweet deal even for those pre-inflationary times. The new owner/operators were often fairly young (30-ish) married couples, who would run the stores as a true family business. A number of the early White Hen franchisees were previously Jewel Food Store managers who had proven their mettle with the company and were given priority when new White Hen stores were planned. Jewel took no percentage until a given store was profitable, and after that they received a 12% cut of store profits.

A couple of things made White Hen unique within the convenience store industry as well. First, they did not sell gasoline, preferring suburban strip centers for many of their earlier locations, later expanding into urban locations. Secondly, each store had an extensive delicatessen and bakery counter, a particular point of pride and a rarity in those days long before Subway popped up in seemingly every gas station/convenience store on earth.

The White Hen Pantries complemented Jewel’s full-line supermarkets nicely, offering customers extended shopping hours in an era when Jewel and Jewel-Osco stores closed at 9pm in most cases and the great majority of them were closed altogether on Sundays. By 1969, 44 White Hens were in operation in the Chicago area and the first Boston area stores were opened to leverage the Star Market territory there. Eventually, a number of White Hens would be opened in Jewel’s downstate Eisner area as well.

The following 15 years would see steady growth with no major changes to the White Hen operation until 1984, when Jewel was taken over by Salt Lake City-based American Stores Company. American’s chairman Sam Skaggs signaled his intentions to build a food and drug titan, and made it known that convenience stores didn’t fit into his plans. White Hen, with some 240 Chicago locations and 50 Boston locations at the time, would be put up for sale. The White Hen management team, some of whom had been there from the beginning in 1965, expressed their desire to put together an offer to buy the company. Skaggs opted instead to place White Hen on the open market, ripe for the taking to the highest bidder. And the bidders came – Southland/7-Eleven, Convenient Food Mart (a local competitor based in Rosemont, Illinois), Los Angeles-based Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), who operated a number of their “Am/Pm Mini-Markets” in the greater Chicago area, and the White Hen management group, who had secured enough funding to be competitive. Happily, the White Hen team won out, and the company “fell into loving hands”, as the Chicago Tribune put it at the time.

In 2001, White Hen Pantry agreed to be sold to Clark Retail Enterprises, who would immediately divest the Boston area stores to a new entity, called New England Pantry, Inc. Clark itself ran into trouble soon afterward, declaring bankruptcy in 2003. A group led by Brandon Barnhart, the former CEO of Clark purchased White Hen in November of that year, and the “pantry” portion of the name was dropped. The end of the White Hen era, at least in the Chicago area, was signaled in August 2006 when White Hen was bought out by arch rival 7-Eleven. The stores have undergone a slow but sure conversion to the 7-Eleven banner since that time.
Note: Larry of the great Diner Hotline, a Massachusetts resident, rightly points out that White Hen Pantries still exist in the Boston area.

The photos below are all circa 1973. The first two views are of a typical suburban store - an exterior (albeit with non-standard signage) and an interior view showing a portion of the vaunted bakery counter. The last view shows the White Hen Pantry that was located on the ground floor of McClurg Court, a high-rise apartment complex that was definitely one of the hotter Chicago addresses in the 1970’s.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bargain Town is now Toys "R" Us!

It had to be the rare late 60’s/early 70’s Chicago area kid who was unfamiliar with the famous Bargain Town! Bargain Town! Bargain Town! commercials that ran incessantly on area kids’ shows during those years. These commercials were a fixture, particularly on the popular Ray Rayner and Friends show, which ran on WGN from 7 to 9 am, starting long before the station was syndicated nationally on cable TV. If you’ve never heard of Ray, ask anyone who grew up in the Chicago area between 1960 and 1980 and you’re likely to see a big smile form on their face. This was an era in which a number of TV stations in major markets produced their own programming for the “youngsters”. Somewhat corny, often made on a low budget, yet nonetheless very creative, these shows are fondly remembered by many. Today, an A.M. flip across most cities’ channels yields six different versions of “Good Morning America”, while the kiddos are banished to the likes of Nickolodeon (“krabby patties, anyone?”) or the Disney Channel (“stay tuned for Lilo and Stitch 9!”) Certainly those were better times in some ways.

Children’s Bargain Town, Inc. was a chain of toy “superstores” founded in Chicago in 1957 by Larry Hochberg. Up to that point, toys were very frequently purchased by middle-income families at very small, family-owned toy stores or in variety stores such as Woolworth’s or Kresge’s. More well-to-do clientele would shop at the toy departments of the large department stores of the day, and then of course there was Sears and their legendary Wish Book. Over time, the superstore concept would come to dominate toy retailing, at least until Wal-Mart’s juggernaut in the 1990’s.

In 1969, Hochberg, whose company had grown to 8 Chicago area stores, sold Children’s Bargain Town to Interstate Stores, Inc. who had bought out another toy chain two years earlier. Hochberg, after staying on with Interstate for a very brief period, would go on to start up Sportmart, a Chicago-based sporting goods superstore chain. Interstate Stores, led by Sol Cantor, was the parent company of two prominent discount chains, Topps Discount City, whose stores were primarily in the eastern and Midwestern states and White Front stores, a west coast operation. Interstate also had a smattering of older traditional department stores, mostly in the east. Cantor was eager to replicate Interstate’s discounting success in the toy realm, and had set a goal for Interstate to operate 100 toy superstores within the following three to four years.

Interstate’s “other” toy chain was the similarly named Children’s Supermart, Inc., which they bought out in January 1967, when it had four Washington, DC area stores that went by the name of “Toys “R” Us”. Founded in Washington DC by Charles Lazarus in 1948, the first store bearing the Toys “R” Us name was opened in Rockville, Maryland in 1957. Lazarus stayed on to run the Toys “R“Us operation after the Interstate buyout.

By 1970, when the photos above were taken, Interstate was expanding their operations aggressively, and the toy division (which they continued to operate under the two separate nameplates) was no exception, more than doubling in size. At that time (’70), they had 11 Toys “R” Us units in the DC area, Baltimore, and the newly entered Los Angeles market. That year also saw 10 Bargain Towns in the Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit areas.

The expansion drive that proved to be beneficial for the toy store divisions turned out to be disastrous for Interstate’s discount stores, Topps (in particular) and White Front. A combination of factors - the overexpanded condition of those chains, hit and miss merchandising, the wobbly early 70’s economy and the overwhelming competitive presence of Kmart in their key markets forced Interstate into bankruptcy in May 1974.

It became clear that the toy division was the only remaining star in the Interstate galaxy, so the decision was made to move forward under one banner, Toys “R” Us. An advertising campaign was launched to announce the renaming of the Children’s Bargain Town stores. Soon, we Chicago kids would learn the new mantra – “Bargain Town! Bargain Town! Bargain Town! is now Toys “R” Us! Toys “R” Us! Toys “R” Us!”, and Geoffrey the giraffe made his first Chicago appearances. For some years before and after the name change, Toys “R” Us used “the Children’s Bargain Town” as a tagline in their ads, and in many instances the slogan appeared on a small sign above the stores’ entrances.

Interstate’s discount divisions were scrapped altogether, and in July 1976 Charles Lazarus, Toys “R” Us founder was named president and CEO of the entire company. In April 1978, Interstate emerged from bankruptcy a very different company, with great prospects for future success that would be realized in the decades ahead. At this same time, the company (appropriately enough) was renamed Toys “R” Us, Inc.

A few more notes on the photos – on the Bargain Town photo, a Kentucky Fried Chicken store is visible in the distance, and what I believe may be a Shakey’s Pizza sign is peeking from behind the toy store’s signpost (it would probably take forensics to verify this). The second photo show the famed 70’s -80’s Toys “R” Us quasi-mansard prototype in one of its earliest examples. The third photo (below) features pool tables, pedal cars, wagons, trikes and good old Murray tractors (I had a Murrray bike!) from one of the two chains, don’t know which. As said, these photos are from 1970. The last item is a full-page Christmas ad from 1971 that appeared in the Washington Post. Just seeing the names of the toy companies makes me nostalgic – Gilbert, Skilcraft, Kenner and the rest which have long since disappeared with the consolidation of the industry. Add to that late, great group Marx, Schaper, Mego, Buddy L, Ideal…the list goes on and on.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's a Mad Mad Mad Shoppers World

Pandemonium has broken out in this 1962 grand opening view of a brand new Shoppers World discount store, which was located at 6211 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Shoppers World had a fairly fleeting tenure on the Chicago retailing scene, but in that time they managed to establish a decent presence in the city and select suburbs.

Shoppers World was founded in March 1956 with a single store by two ex-New Englanders, Alvin D. Star and Jerome Spier, both of whom worked as buyers for Boston’s legendary Filene’s department store chain. Eager to go into business on their own, they first considered opening a chain of ladies’ specialty stores, according to Robert Drew-Bear’s book Mass Merchandising. Upon visiting the super-successful Ann and Hope discount outlet in Cumberland, Rhode Island, they reset their sights on the world of discounting.

After scouting a number of locations in the greater Boston area, Star and Spier decided to pull up stakes and plant their flag in Chicago instead, where Star’s brother lived. The first store was opened at the intersection of Milwaukee, Foster and Central Avenues. Some months later, Shoppers World number two opened in Cicero, followed by a third store in 1958 in Melrose Park. By 1960, a Highland, Indiana store had been added along with two more Chicago locations.

The stores sold a mix of clothing, housewares and small appliances. In their early years, like a number of discount chains, including Korvettes, Shoppers World ran afoul of the era’s “fair trade” laws, which allowed manufacturers to set a floor below which prices of certain items could not be set. The company found itself blacklisted by a number of well-known vendors, but seemed to find a creative way around that, by setting up a special “wholesale” organization under a different name to buy from those vendors, then putting the items on sale in the Shoppers World stores. Fortunately for Shoppers World and the rest of the discount store chains, most fair trade laws went the way of the dinosaur by the early sixties.

In 1961, Star and Spier sold their six-store chain to Chicago-based Aldens, which was at the time the fourth largest catalog retailer in the United States. The new parent company invested heavily in Shoppers World, growing the chain to 14 stores (ranging from 40,000 to 120,000 square feet each). There were now stores in these Chicago suburbs as well - Mount Prospect, Niles, Oak Lawn, Chicago Heights and also in Gary, Indiana as well as downstate Decatur, Illinois and one store in more distant St. Paul, Minnesota.

Aldens itself was acquired at the close of 1964 by Gamble-Skogmo, Inc., owner of several retail chains -Gambles, Skogmos and Tempo, among others with most of their locations in America’s heartland, and Clark’s and Maclean’s in Canada.

The Shoppers World story wound down pretty quickly from there, with Gamble-Skogmo’s sale of the still 14-store strong chain in 1967 to Community Discount Stores, whose name the stores took on. The Lincoln Avenue store became a Zayre after Community’s demise, then a Kmart, according to my friend Chicago history blogger Didi. A Home Depot now sits on the site. I’m not sure where the second store pictured was located, but it might possibly be the last Shoppers World store, which opened at the corner of Fullerton and Narragansett Avenues in February 1965.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Osco Drug - Out of the Past

This late 40’s scene from downtown Rockford, Illinois looks like it could have come straight out of a film noir classic. The photo is part of an intriguing series of night shots taken by Rockford native Bob Anderson, who now resides in Beijing, China.

The store pictured is very typical of Osco Drug stores opened during the first twenty-odd years of the company’s existence. Founded as Pay-Less Drug in Rochester, Minnesota in 1937 by Lorenzo L. Skaggs, scion of one of the Safeway Stores founding families, the company was dubbed Owners Service Company (later shortened to “Osco”) following mergers with a few other small drug chains.

By 1960, Osco had 30 drugstores operating in six Midwestern states – Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota and Iowa. Their success (and favorable geographic locations) had caught the attention of Chicago-based Jewel Tea Company, which was about to embark on a series of diversification moves.

On February 16, 1961 through an exchange of stock, Osco became a wholly owned subsidiary of Jewel Tea. The most obvious advantage that Jewel gained from the merger was the fact that they now had both pharmacy experience and a well-known regional drugstore nameplate in-house, which enabled Jewel to implement its long planned “combination store” strategy, the key to Jewel’s success in the both the sixties and the decades that followed. Jewel was one of the early adopters of the “combination store” format, essentially a supermarket and drugstore under one roof, with or without shared checkstands. Jewel-Osco would prove to be a powerful brand combination, enduring to this day.

Jewel would initially split Osco into two separate operating groups – the first known as the “Main Street” Osco stores, those stores located near the outside limits of the Chicago area (in the downtown areas of such cities as Elgin, Joliet, Waukegan and Rockford, for example), along with downstate cities such as Bloomington. The Main Street group also included all Osco stores outside of Illinois. The second group was known as the “Chicago Osco Drug” group, which of course was made up of the Chicago metropolitan area stores, including those combined with Jewel Food Stores.

Pictured below in a scene of very different character from the first one (but still pretty cool looking) is Rockford’s “new” Osco store in an early 1960’s postcard view. The store had moved some years earlier to a new location directly across the street from the original Osco, the edge of which can be seen to the far right of the photo. Also of interest is the Carson Pirie Scott store, which had replaced the original Block & Kuhl store in that location.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jewel - Downers Grove, IL Early 1960's

These superb photos from Downers Grove, Illinois, apparently a two-Jewel town in the early 1960’s, were taken by Donald Hodges and come to us through the courtesy of his son Paul. These photos have a lot of detail, so you'll want to click on them to see the enlarged versions. Downers Grove is 19 miles west of Chicago in DuPage County. In the early 60’s, “Downers” (as many residents lovingly refer to it) was well along in transition from a once-rural area with a quaint downtown to a full-blown suburb. Today Downers Grove, along with DuPage cities Naperville, Lisle and Wheaton (among others) form an affluent suburban corridor that is home to a growing number of corporate headquarters and has long been considered the “hottest” part of the Chicago area in terms of growth. Many of my near west suburban peers from high school and college days have migrated to DuPage in the last 25 years. Despite the area’s tremendous growth, Downers Grove has done an admirable job of preserving a “small town feel” in its thriving downtown area.

The first photo, from June 1962, shows the Downers Market Shopping Center, which was located at the intersection of Ogden Avenue (US 34) and Saratoga Avenue. In addition to the Jewel, the center featured a Woolworth’s and the locally owned E-G Home Center among other stores. Barely readable at the corner of the Jewel store is an oval “Burny Bros.” sign, a popular Chicago bakery that had departments in many Jewel stores of the era. As a kid, I can remember riding with my parents as they drove on I-294 and passing the Burny Bros. bakery plant in Northlake with its pink sign glowing at night. The plant later was later operated as an Entenmann’s facility and is now something else, I believe. Maybe the most interesting aspect of this photo for those who grew up in the area is the sign for Texas Tommy’s Silver Dollar Coffee House (Yee-ha!). I’ve never seen any interior photos of this long gone restaurant, but I have to think it sported wagon-wheel chandeliers. Or should have, at least.

Not long ago, the original shopping center was razed and a modern (and massive, by comparison) Jewel-Osco now sits on the entire site. One other note about this photo – behind Texas Tommy’s sat another supermarket. I’d love to know what it was.

The second and third photos are wonderful February 1961 views of Main Street (you expected some other name?), and in addition to the tiny, porcelain fronted Jewel there can be seen a Walgreens (back when soda fountains were a given at these) and a tiny Sears store that would have been either a Type “C” store or catalog desk store, in addition to many other local favorites.
To provide a bit more detail, below is a close-up (cropped from the second photo) of the Main St. store along with a line drawing of the same early 1950's prototype.
Update: I happened to find a newspaper article about the downtown store's grand opening in my files after I posted this. From the Chicago Tribune, dated August 23, 1951: GALA CROWD OF 6,500 HELPS OPEN STORE IN DOWNERS GROVE - "A gala square dance jamboree was held in Downers Grove last week at the opening of a new Jewel Food store in the village. Downers Grove Police Chief O.A. Springborn estimated the crowd at 6,500, more than half the village population. Some 14,020 hot dogs, ice cream bars, soft drinks and sacks of popcorn were consumed. Thousands of gas filled balloons added to the merriment. A 7 foot helium filled balloon belonging to Oscar Mayer broke away from its mooring. A $50 reward is being offered for it return. Six groups from Downers Grove, Lombard, and Oak Park gave square dance exhibitions and instruction."
Those were the days. And that hot dog-shaped balloon must still be floating around up there somewhere, don't you think?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Jewel's Silver Anniversary Style

The artist’s rendering above dates from 1956, and depicts Jewel’s “25th Anniversary Store”, as planned for opening in Chicago the following year. This store featured the new tower design that replaced the masonry pylon as the company’s standard over the next several years. The store’s main sign was made up of individual “stand-up” letters, but rectangular signs were still used as well during this period. Here’s a 1970 color photo showing a late 50’s Jewel with the sign tower (barely) visible.

Twenty-five years on, Jewel could now claim the number one spot in Chicago grocery market share. Apparently, plenty of customers found Jewel “a better place to trade”, as their advertising tagline of the time put it. Jewel began to take its first expansion steps outside the Chicagoland area. In March, 1957, Jewel bought out the Eisner Grocery Company. Eisner was based in Champaign, home of the University of Illinois, and had 42 grocery stores located in Central Illinois and Western Central Indiana. Eisner grew rapidly within a short time under Jewel’s ownership, with the addition of five new stores in the first year. In 1958, Jewel would open up another new market area, with four new stores in greater Peoria. Although these stores went under the Jewel name, they were operated by Eisner. Due in part to the Eisner market area’s distance from Chicago, but mostly to the decentralized management style that was favored by Jewel, Eisner was operated as a stand-alone operation, with its own offices, warehousing and bakery operations in Champaign.

Around the same time, Jewel would venture into two adjoining states for the first time. First they entered Wisconsin, with the 1958 purchase of two stores from Connolly’s Finer Foods in just over the border Kenosha. The first Jewel in nearby Rockford, Illinois (just under the border) was also opened that year. In the following March, Jewel would open its first Michigan store in Benton Harbor, on the other side of Lake Michigan shoreline from Chicago. All of these stores were serviced from the Melrose Park home base.

Jewel's frontiers would expand much further in the early years of the 1960’s.

Just for fun, below is a 1956 view of the new Jewel Food Store in Chicago’s Scottsdale Shopping Center, located at West 79th Street and South Cicero Avenue and opened in November of the previous year. This shopping center (which still exists, though it goes without saying the original tenants have long since departed) was also notable for a unique Goldblatts store with a curved facade.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Jewel Food Stores in the 1950's

The early and middle years of the 1950’s were in effect the “calm before the storm” for Jewel. Near the end of the 50’s and especially in the 1960’s, Jewel would expand both its business model (adding drug stores, a discount operation and convenience stores, among other things) and its store operating territory (acquiring chains based in New England and the Northwest, along with interests in Europe and Mexico). Throughout the fifties, however, Jewel concentrated on growing its core Chicago market, expanding into the suburbs and upgrading to much larger stores.

In the winter of 1954/5, Jewel opened its new distribution and office complex at 1955 North Avenue in west suburban Melrose Park, Illinois. Large by the standards of time (a 500,000 square feet warehouse and a 52,000 square feet office building), the complex would be expanded many times over the years. Melrose Park would become the new nerve center of the company, due in part to its close proximity to Chicago and much more central location within Jewel’s operating area. Barrington’s Jewel Park, the company’s stomping grounds since 1930 (and at 400,000 square feet no small operation itself) would now house only the route operation offices and manufacturing. Jewel also maintained a produce and meat warehouse on Ashland Avenue in Chicago, which would later be closed down when its operations were moved to Melrose Park. Despite the ownership changes of the last 25 years, Melrose Park remains Jewel’s headquarters today.

The company continued to place a heavy emphasis on self-service in its stores, a practice that Jewel adopted earlier than many other major chains. Jewel’s meat departments, which had been the lone holdouts, were converted to self-service to great fanfare in the early and mid fifties. Jewel took great pains to educate their customers with regard to the convenience and speed benefits of self-service meat, all the while assuring them that their friendly meat managers were on standby to provide them with “those special cuts”.

The photos above show typical Jewel scenes from the fifties – (1) a 1953 storefront (which looks very similar to the Arlington Heights location) replete with banners promoting self-service meats. Not much room for daylight in those windows. (2) a typical new, vaunted self-service meat department, (3) a Jewel entrance featuring an “always open” air-curtain door arrangement, all the rage for a brief period in store construction – this particular store being located at 5140 North Lincoln Avenue, (4) a 1957 photo of a new Jewel store, complete with its masonry pylon under construction (you can see the store it would replace to the far right of the photo) and (5) a new Jewel store, with mirror-image design of that in the previous photo, brand new and open for business in 1955, one of eighteen new stores the company would add that year.