Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Kroger Superstores!

In the early 1970’s, Kroger was at the proverbial crossroads. The closing years of the sixties and early years of the seventies had brought about many changes in American life - the most obvious, of course, being political and social in nature. Far less obvious, but sweeping nonetheless, were the changes in the retail business environment. The supermarket industry, in particular, was reeling. There were many factors behind this – inflation, wage and price controls, consumer advocacy (for the first time, a real public focus on nutrition and health), food shortages, strikes and a number of other concerns. On top of this, the age-old battle for marketing and competitive supremacy was becoming more heated than ever.

Throughout 1970 and 1971, Kroger conducted an arduous, in-depth review of every aspect of its operation – company structure, management, manufacturing, merchandising, store locations and design, personnel training, you name it. At the same time, they conducted the most in-depth review to date of their competition in every market – an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses and how Kroger was stacking up against them. Since this was the seventies, you might call it an “I’m OK, You’re OK”-type analysis, referring to a famous pop-psychology book that half of the country seemed to be into at the time. (My mom had the book. Of course, I never read it, but I vaguely remember a parody - in Mad Magazine or somewhere else - called “I’m OK, You’re Nuts!”).

Some results of the study were reassuring – Kroger’s balance sheet was strong, and their distribution centers and manufacturing/private label operations were going great guns, as it were. Most importantly, though, the study revealed Kroger’s problem areas –the things that had to be addressed to ensure Kroger’s survival in what would prove to be a very challenging decade for the industry. They could see clearly now –the rain was gone. They could see all obstacles in their way…

And there were two main obstacles to be dealt with. First, it became clear that Kroger would be better off withdrawing from unprofitable markets that showed little potential for a turnaround, those areas in which Kroger was a clear also-ran. These markets were Chicago (most remaining stores sold to Fisher Foods’ Dominick’s division in 1971), Wisconsin (55 stores statewide - including the remaining 19 Milwaukee units, some of which went to Jewel, in 1971), Minneapolis (most stores sold to Quality Foods, also in ‘71) and Birmingham, which Kroger left in 1972. Also, the number of retail divisions, known as “Kroger Marketing Areas”, was consolidated to 13 from the previous 23.

The other major problem was the state of the stores themselves. Averaging only 16,000 square feet in store size, Kroger found itself falling behind industry standards. The number of food items had proliferated wildly in the 15 years or so that Kroger ‘s stores had been that size, and just as significantly, the smaller stores placed severe limitations on the amount of (very profitable) general merchandise items that could be stocked. As a couple of folks have noted in their comments on this site, Kroger’s produce and service departments (deli, bakery, etc.) left something to be desired. Another issue was the relative blandness of the stores. What may have been “state of the art” or at least above par in the late 50’s was by this time sorely dated. Above all, Kroger's stores were in dire need of a distinctive new image.

They really went for it. Out of this painful process came the “Superstore”, a new concept in every way for Kroger, one which made an immediate and fairly long-lasting impact on the chain’s fortunes. Fondly remembered by many today, the superstores easily ranked among the most attractive stores of the era.

Bursting at the seams with pride in their new stores, Kroger described a typical exterior in 1972 as follows – “The new look starts when you’re several blocks away. A graceful white column topped by a room-sized cube bearing Kroger’s name towers 30 feet high to identify the store.” (If you’ve ever stood at the base of one these signs, as I do when I buy gas at a Kroger near us, you’ll notice it definitely is “room-sized”. Surprisingly so. Many of these signs still exist, long after the age of the superstores has passed.)“As you enter the parking lot, the store comes into view. Bigger. Longer. Often with a SupeRx store as an integrated neighbor. A sharply clean, crisp look. Soaring white arches with almost a Moorish look, silhouetted against smoke brick and blue sky.” (I’m assuming the “sky” part varied, but I was pretty young in 1972!)

Inside were the real delights – “Look around. The first impression is spaciousness and cleanliness. Then a warmer, more friendly look. Then it hits you. The colors. Pulsing and alive, accented with wooden beams. Even the cases have lost their pale pastel tones. Now they’re richly-hued green and gold and bittersweet (I always thought that was a kind of memory, not a color), sparked with walnut-vinyl trim. Bold colors transmit a sense of shopping excitement.”

Then there were the service departments – “The Village Bakery is like a transplant from an English Tudor village with its beams and cross-hatched windows. And if the Viennese tortes,
gesundheit kuchens (I’d probably love ‘em if I knew what they were!) and buttery dinner rolls look particularly good, there’s a reason. They’re made especially for the Village Bakery in local custom bakeries … and in a growing number of areas, in Kroger’s own handcraft bakeries.” “Next door in the delicatessen, a pleasant-faced clerk proffers a sample of salami and calls attention to the delicatessen’s freshly-barbecued ribs, basted with a tangy sauce and broiled to a tantalizing brownness. She stands under a wood-shingle roof, accented with the golden glow of lighted panels. Her stock in trade is prepared foods ready to carry home…”

There’s not a lot I can add to these great descriptions or to what you can see for yourself in the photos, but I would like to point out the great, classic 70’s lighting fixtures – globe lights with red, yellow or smoke-colored plastic domes, and the wood and textured amber glass-framed globes above the checkstands. The textured amber “glass”’ is probably fiberglass-reinforced plastic, a very popular decorative material of the time.

The size range of the superstores, with some exceptions (see the comments on the previous post), was 25,000 to 42,000 square feet. By the end of 1974, with three years of intense superstore construction under its belt, Kroger had opened 300 new stores and converted 250 existing ones into superstores, with an average square footage per unit of 29,000 as opposed to the 1970 average of 16,000. The “converted” stores, as mentioned, were completely redeveloped existing Kroger stores, expanded and refitted with the superstore interior package. The company tended to go with larger stores in booming new suburban shopping areas, such as the 35,616 square foot superstore opened in late 1971 in Goodlettsville (Nashville), Tennessee, located on Two Mile Pike (later renamed Rivergate Parkway after the adjacent mall of the same name), or in upscale areas, such as the Hyde Park section of Cincinnati, where a 42,000 square foot unit opened in 1974.

Kroger’s aggressive approach for the superstore program was fortuitous. Had Kroger delayed the superstore rollout by even a year, the cost would have been far higher, given the unprecedented inflation of the 1973-75 period.

Just as a side note, as if all of this weren’t exciting enough, Kroger decided to enter the amusement business. As trading stamps fell victim to the price wars of the early 70’s, Kroger needed a means to bolster its Top Value Enterprises subsidiary. In May 1972, Top Value entered into a joint venture with Taft Broadcasting, a Cincinnati-based media empire, to form Family Leisure Centers, Inc. Taft was just about to open Kings Island, a theme park located northwest of Cincinnati off of I-71. The first project of the new joint venture was Kings Dominion, a new theme park to be built in Richmond, Virginia. The first phase of the project, Lion Country Safari, “where the people are caged and the animals roam free”, opened in 1973 with the rest of the park following a bit later. In early 1975, Family Leisure Centers purchased a second theme park, Carowinds, located in Charlotte, North Carolina, from an investor group headed by Duke Power. When Kroger sold Top Value in 1978, it retained its interest in Family Leisure for another couple of years, eventually dissolving the partnership with Taft. Kroger did retain majority ownership in Kings Dominion for a period of time after that.

One other area the company dabbled in at this time was that of convenience stores. “Happy Food Stores” was what they were dubbed, complete with a clown mascot, and an experienced executive from Lil’ General stores to head up the venture. Let’s just say that they didn’t exactly live up to their name.

But the real story for Kroger in the seventies was of course, the superstores, and they certainly did live up to their name. Customers responded positively to Kroger’s new stores, as evidenced by record sales increases from 1972 through 1976. Kroger’s competitive position in their midwest and central markets was strengthened, and huge inroads were made in the newer, booming southern markets.

So, for Kroger and their customers, it was a bright, bright, sunshiny day!

The photos, all Kroger publicity shots, from the top: (1) A photo montage from the Cincinnati Hyde Park location, opened in January 1974 (2) an exterior from 1975, location unknown, (3) the checkout from the Mooresville (south suburban Indianapolis), Indiana store, a 1961 store expanded from 16,000 to 29,000 square feet in 1973 (4) and (5) interiors from 1975, unknown location (6) the produce section, big on celery, Mooresville (7) poultry case, Mooresville (8) a family in front of another poultry case, 1976 (Remember those huge gallon milk cartons? I was sure glad when they started putting handles on those things!) (9) meats, unknown, 1976 (10) the “Village Cheese Shop”, Hyde Park (11) Delicatessen, 1976, unknown (12) a more elaborate cheese/wine section, 1976 (13) a pleasant-faced clerk in the bakery area, 1976 (14) bread section, unknown, 1974 (15) greeting card and gift section, including a line of “famous brands” cards that I actually remember, 1976.

35 comments:

  1. One word to sum up the superstore pictures: Wow! Kroger certainly went all out in atmosphere and decor...no doubt these interiors left quite an impression on people!

    There is a former Kroger store in Princeton, WV (my birthplace, incidentally) that still has a helping of wood beams, cross-hatched windows, and shingles inside. I sometimes wonder if there are any other superstores left that still contain substantial portions of their '70s decor, although alas I'm not optimistic...

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  2. I don't even think there are a substantial number of superstores with unmodified EXTERIORS honestly. One note that I forgot to mention is that the Packard St. superstore I mentioned in the previous comments section didn't receive the "room sized box sign". It received a sign with "Georgetown Mall" written on it and the word KROGER as one of the small store names listed below the mall logo. It never even had a Kroger logo applied to it. Interestingly enough when the mall closed except for the Kroger they came and replaced the Georgetown Mall lettering with a circa 2008 Kroger Logo. I have seen several of the "room sized" signs and wonder: did any other superstores not receive these signs?

    I always thought that the original superstore decor was far more upscale than anything before or certainly since and much more of a substantial piece both architecturally and in terms of appeal. Much more so than the 80's Neon wall graphics certainly and even more so than the maroon and cursive in use today.

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  3. The aggressive rollout of superstores can't be viewed lightly given Kroger was the third largest grocer at the time superstores were launched and ended the decade as the number two grocer, though the rapid decline of A&P needs to be viewed in context to this ranking.

    Given the large geographic dispersion of Kroger, and that the superstore wasn't limited to larger suburban markets is a factor in the success of the superstore in revitalizing Kroger.

    Most southern chains were later to a superstore format, though exceptions always exist, such as Publix, Bruno's, Randall's and Tom Thumb. Also many midwestern regionals such as Big Bear found the superstore to be a formidable foe as rivals such as Colonial/Alber's and A&P faded from the central Ohio market.

    Ultimately the superstore wasn't enough to maintain Kroger's lead in St. Louis or gain market shares in Pittsburgh, Northeast Ohio, and Kansas City. And Kroger would come very close to exiting Michigan altogher, being saved by a distribution partnership and union concessions while the competition, save Meijer, fared even worse. Nor did the format prove a strong launch vehicle to new markets such as San Antonio against hometown favorite H-E-B or another recently arrived rival, Albertson's. Nor did Kroger acheive a critical mass with Market Basket in SoCal during the decade, even though the superstore interior design was transferred to the division as well.

    For markets such as Atlanta, Houston and Dallas, Kroger was revitalized from an also ran laggard to market innovator. For Dallas and Houston, this happened despite growth of local chains such as Randall's, Tom Thumb, Minyard, Fiesta Mart, and the entry of Skaggs Alpha Beta to DFW.

    Neither Safeway, A&P, National nor Food Fair would be as consistent and aggressive in rolling out superstores throughout their operating regions. For example, Kroger and Safeway were more or less on equal footing in Arkansas at the beginning of the 70's and by the end of the decade, Kroger had visibly taken the lead.

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  4. A couple of comments here.

    1. The first picture was also used in a lot of advertising in and around the Columbus area.

    2. The superstore rollout featured a radio and TV ad campaign that used a very catchy and memorable "superstore" jingle ("Tomorrow's store today ... Kroger's got it!")

    3. I agree with Andrew concerning the interior. When I first had the chance to shop in a 1975 superstore (I was 12), I had never been so "wowed" by a store interior in my entire life. In fact, NOTHING Kroger did after that ever measured up to the impact and coordinated look of the superstore. Every department had it's own bold color and look. This was a very exciting time for retail geeks.

    4. I repeat, NO Kroger prototype since comes even close to the superstore. Maybe it was the sheer contrast to their dreary competition, or even their own dreary stores, but it was definitely more visually appealing than most of their competition.

    5. Kroger used to also have much better advertising campaigns back in that era. Before the superstore, it was "Lightning Low Prices"

    http://content.ancestry.com/browse/view.aspx?dbid=50255&iid=NEWS-OH-MA_HE_TI.1968_06_19_0018&desc=kroger+lightning+-subscription&veil=1&o_xid=18704&o_lid=18704&offerid=0%3a7797%3a0

    "Let Kroger Mini-Mize Your Food Costs" (complete with plastic food cost calculator to help you total your grocery bill before checking out).

    http://content.ancestry.com/browse/view.aspx?dbid=50003&iid=NEWS-OH-NE_JO.1976_09_06_0057&desc=kroger+%22mini-mize%22&veil=1&o_xid=18704&o_lid=18704&offerid=0%3a7797%3a0

    3. The Cost Cutter ad campaign followed ... after this, the campaigns became too slick and boring, like their store formats.

    -Dan

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  5. Ken said: Also many midwestern regionals such as Big Bear found the superstore to be a formidable foe as rivals

    Ken, Big Bear was always the "Target" of grocery chains around here even before such a thing existed. They were never known for being the lowest price, but had such great store environments, bakery, meats and produce, that they were the Number 1 chain (or tied for number 1) around here into the early 1990's. Then they were bought out by Penn Traffic of New York, which didn't know how to run that kind of a supermarket, which ran a mid-tier operation, but jacked up prices to east coast levels. Big Bear did very well around here with slightly higher prices and much better product and services.

    Ken said: Neither Safeway, A&P, National nor Food Fair would be as consistent and aggressive in rolling out superstores ...

    A&P always seemed commitment-phobic to me. Although the superstores they began to roll out, weren't bad, they NEVER had a consistent identifiable store look or theme like Kroger did. I can think of about 5 or 6 different types of interiors they tried in the 1970's. It was almost as if they couldn't decide on a single look. But then again, that's the history of A&P. They can't even decide on their banners let alone what's inside the store.

    -Dan

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  6. It's interesting that Kroger's Market Basket stores in Southern California used that exact same interior package, although they did not have the same exteriors as the superstores. Reminds me of the Market Basket I used to shop at located at 3rd & Frairfax in Los Angeles. Great photos!

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  7. Off topic here, but thought everyone would be interested in a couple of Kroger oddities:

    1. This is one of the first new-build superstores in the Columbus area, near Children's Hospital, built in 1973:

    http://franklincountyoh.metacama.com/photo/20071118/FI083232.jpg

    Notice that it doesn't have a superstore exterior? That is because the store was located near the German Village area near downtown.

    The county lists the square footage as 49,112.

    2. This was the Berwick Plaza store my mother shopped at when I was a kid. It was built in 1963 and closed in 1975 in favor of a superstore near Eastland Mall (incidentally sitting on land purchased from Colonial Stores -- amazing what you can find on the computer these days).

    http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCC&cp=qnkf8982q8k5&style=b&lvl=2&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&scene=38626198&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&encType=1

    The store has a new facade, but originally looked similar to this, which is a Big Bear in this perpetually dead center. The Big Bear moved in 1980. They rehabbed the Kroger section about 10 years ago, hoping to turn it into an office park. The office idea was about as successful as the shopping center.

    http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCC&cp=qnk4vg82q983&style=b&lvl=2&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&scene=38626198&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&encType=1


    -Dan

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  8. I have to agree with Dan about A&P which seemed to define shciztoprhenic supermarket operator in the 1970s. Given it's the 150th anniversary, bear with me as I go off topic. They actually had a very superstore-esque prototype that was launched around 1969 in the Cleveland, OH and New Orleans areas with fanfare in industry publications. Yet they never ran with it. Also, they launched the Family Mart, an early food-drug combo, virtually identical to Skaggs Albertson's of the same era and very simily to the Kroger Sav-On of the late 70s. The limited to the Family Mart to the peripherals of their southeastern markets with Florida having the only significant concentration. In many of their core southern markets, they stood pat with existing stores, mainly centennials and a few new builds that I describe as Winn-Dixie knockoffs, having a similar exterior design. Then their was the WEO warehouse units and the PLUS limited assortment format.

    Moving back on topic, the Kroger superstore makes a more striking statement than virtually anything in the industry from that time onward, other than some one time knockoffs from opeators like Grand Union and A&P. They certainly took Kroger to a new level in the context of most consumers. The greenhouse format of the 80s is the logical successor, but its look isn't as timeless, especially the bauhaus graphics-which do however continue the color scheme.

    Certainly the hues are very 1970s chic with earthtones, rustic wood work and modern light fixtures.
    If I remember correctly, the faux brick tile was matched to the color of each department.
    Green was used in produce, red in the meat market, and yellow in the deli-bakery area. Some wine departments got a floor completely bricked while others used the red brick triming found in meat. Ditto with the cards and floral sections.

    Incidentally while Kroger was not the first locally to adopt scanning, the first electronic cash register I ever saw was in the local Kroger which received its superstore makeover/expansion in 1975. The store was doubled in size to 25000 s.f. Big Star relocated across the street next to Kmart with an also ran than closed after less than 5 years, it's lease taken over by Kroger, who moved to a greenhouse store. Big Lots occupies the old Kroger today while Kmart expanded into the Big Star to become Big Kmart.

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  9. I dont know if its still there but in West Chester Ohio just north of Cincinnati there was a former superstore that became a Big Lots. It kept all the 1970's superstore decor. Including the shingles & lights! The outside was unchanged as well exect for signage.

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  10. Ken said: I have to agree with Dan about A&P which seemed to define shciztoprhenic supermarket operator in the 1970s.

    I've made the point on other boards that they have never even been able to stick with a banner for very long, as if a change of the sign outside was a magic cure for their problems! Getting waaaaay off topic, but around here I can think of the 1969 "jet" prototype on an A&P superstore here (E. Broad), then a superstore near my grandmother's house had a "Bicentennial" look (Livingston & Courtright; all red, white and blue with bookman lettering), then yet another newer store near the previous two, which had a different look, using more brick inside (Gahanna); and finally a store in Newark, Ohio which was similar (yet different) from the Gahanna store. I believe this was the last new store they built in the area. I also want to mention the Eastland and Westland Mall stores which originally had a 1960's interior, but were closed for remodeling and given a "Bauhaus" interior package.

    When A&P pulled out of the area, they kept the Livingston & Courtright store going for another year as it's lone store in the area. A&P's storesdoing better business, including this one, were taken over by Stump's, an independent from Dayton.

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  11. Sorry for my pseudo-spamming today, but these pictures bring back lots of memories ... If you notice the exterior sign that says "Prescriptions" is actually referring to the offerings of "SupeRx". If I remember correctly, all of the newly-built combo stores had front entrances adjacent to each other, and an interior pass-through between the stores so that you did not have to exit one store to go into the other.

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  12. Seeing these pictures, instantly I'm transported back to late night grocery shopping with my parents and older brother at the Martinsville, Va. Kroger superstore or the one at Tanglewood Mall, both bedecked in their elaborate earth-toned glory.

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  13. Since this was the seventies, you might call it an “I’m OK, You’re OK”-type analysis, referring to a famous pop-psychology book that half of the country seemed to be into at the time. (My mom had the book. Of course, I never read it, but I vaguely remember a parody - in Mad Magazine or somewhere else - called “I’m OK, You’re Nuts!”).

    LOL! Hmm, the latter statement is a good motto for me at work.

    I am sure you know this already, Dave, and everyone else here but Kroger sort of re-entered the Chicago market the last several years with the Food 4 Less format which sells lots of Kroger brand goods without having the Kroger name out front.

    Every department had it's own bold color and look. This was a very exciting time for retail geeks.

    LOL! Any time in retail is exciting for retail geeks.

    Now let me go to the Village Cheese Shop.

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  14. The superstores were too late for markets that had strong local or independent chains like Cleveland, Pittsy, Detroit, and St. Louis. While the super stores were a big improvement, their major competitors in those markets often had far more attractive interiors and better developed service departments. In comparison, Kroger seemed like a "me-too".

    A&P was still opening Centennials in Cleveland in 1969. I don't recall any modern prototypes there at that time. In the late 60s, they opened stores in Westlake, and another in Mentor, these one in Mentor replaced an early centennial and was actually smaller than some of the stores they had built in the 50s, like the Shore Center store in Euclid. A store in Madison opened in the early 70s. It wasn't until '74 that they opened a modern prototype, which was next door to a KMart on Brookpark Road near Pearl & Ridge. A&P went through waves of store closings in many places rather than heavily invest in new stores. It took them a while to realize that they needed to exit entire markets and their ability to rebuild might have been greater had they taken that step sooner. The need to keep their manufacturing operations going may have played a role. This was one reason Winn-Dixie took so long to exit places where it was doing poorly.

    In some markets, superstores were heavily developed in central cities. Neighborhood groups ultimately got angry with Kroger in their hometown of Cincinnati because of all the vacant pre-superstore locations that often went w/o a tenant. In those days, old supermarkets were more easily re-tenanted with independent than now, perhaps Kroger was keeping landlords from helping their potential competition.

    The stores worked best where competition was in decline or disarray, which explains Kroger's strength in places like Atlanta and Indianapolis.

    The brutalist, castle-like proportions of the super stores did not wear as well as the greenhouses, but the interiors look quaint compared with the cheaply appointed early greenhouses.

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  15. The brutalist, castle-like proportions of the super stores did not wear as well as the greenhouses, but the interiors look quaint compared with the cheaply appointed early greenhouses.

    I don't know that I agree with this statement. The superstore was quite simply a game-changer for Kroger. Never before had Kroger put together such beautiful stores that were, at the same time, as well merchandised as these stores were. This was the magic bullet all floundering retailers (Sears, Kmart, Circuit City) have been looking for. It was a hit to be compared to the Ford Taurus, Pontiac GTO, Chevy Impala, Toyota Camry or Chrysler Minivan. A lesser format might not have been able to propel Kroger to Number 1 supermarket operator and could easily have resulted in their fortunes going the other way.

    Do not underestimate the superstore and the impact it had on its customers and on Kroger itself.

    --Dan

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  16. "The superstores were too late for markets that had strong local or independent chains like Cleveland, Pittsy, Detroit, and St. Louis."

    Anonymous- Why did you include Detroit included in this list?

    Kroger is the biggest grocery retailer in the Detroit market, and several of the superstores are still open as well as many new stores and with the A&P owned Farmer Jack exit of the market Meijer and Kroger are the two big players left. Local chains Hillers and Buschs round out the Detroit market. The biggest independent I can think of "Great Scott!" is long since relegated to history. The other three you mentioned are indeed 80's pullouts by Kroger but Detroit shouldn't be on any "Superstores didn't help here" list.

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  17. Detroit was dominated by Borman's(Farmer Jack), Allied(Wrigley, later Great Scott!) and Chatham's, all locally based and Kroger and A&P rounded out the top players.
    The Kroger superstores didn't necessarily fail Kroger in the Detroit area, the Grosse Pointe superstore, an older build that was retrofitted to superstore was for most of the 70s and 80s the highest volume per sq. foot store in the Kroger chain. It has since been converted to a Kroger Fresh Fare.

    Ultimately the local chains ran into financial difficulties resulting in Chatham closing down with the remaining operators picking up former locations, Kroger closing a significant number of stores in the region-selling the Saginaw-Flint stores to Kessell's which has come full circle, A&P buying Farmer Jack, only to take it down, and Kroger acquiring Great Scott!.

    Even in nearby Toledo, it took a great deal of time for Kroger to overtake and surpass FoodTown. Ultimately Kroger won out in Toledo and Detroit by attrition, though the superstores and subsequent greenhouses and post-greenhouse stores did much improve Kroger's position.

    Even St. Louis might be regarded as a missed opportunity, as National and Kroger had been neck and neck since the mid-70's. Prior to the emergence of Schnuck's, bouyed with purchase of the Bettendorf-Rapp division of Allied and the exit of A&P, St Louis had been the largest and most profitible Kroger division. Loblaw was very close to pulling the plug on National when Kroger exited, allowing the last two divisions of National another decade of operation as a result.

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  18. Ken nailed it, regarding Detroit. Kroger was way behind their local competition. St. Louis was one of the few markets where National was competitive and they poured a lot of money into their New Orleans-styled superstores. during the late 60s. That an also-ran chain like National could be competitive or best Kroger (as they did in Chicago) is a sign of just how anemic they were in many northern markets. they bested National in Indianapolis, where they had invested far less. Schnucks ran better stores than either chain and easily gained dominance in St. Louis.

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  19. Are my eyes deceiving me or are there grocery themed greeting cards in the last photo?

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  20. I remember shopping at stores like these with my grandmother in Parma, OH, and thinking how boring Giant, Safeway, A&P, and Grand Union were at home in the DC burbs. Those stores had one of the best interiors i've seen in grocery stores.

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  21. Are my eyes deceiving me or are there grocery themed greeting cards in the last photo?

    Sure looks that way to me, Steven.

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  22. It seems that ex-Kroger superstore are the site of choice for Big Lots throughout the MidWest and Southeast. One thing about Big Lots usings these stores, they left them reletively intact, as Andrew Turbull's photos of the former Princeton, WV superstore has become. Many of these stores were still located in high traffic areas, and were an expensive way to expand with the right sized footprint.

    To be honest, most superstores had a better location than their successors. Particularly superstores that were located along the main commercial corridors of the small and mid-sized towns, as the best real estate was built out in the 1970s, and by the 80's and 90's, the replacements often were placed in less visible sites as close to the previous store, often having poorer access than the superstores which were frequently in shopping centers while the greenhouse stores were often stand alone.

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  23. Andrew – I couldn’t agree more! I’m hard pressed to think of a new store design that did more to lift the fortunes of a chain. And that Princeton store is fantastic. I’ve seen number of Big Lots units that were ex-superstores, and from the exterior were recognizable as such, but none have had that much of the original interior décor left. Really great!

    Christopher – Most of the superstores I’m aware of had those signs, and on those that are still Krogers, it’s generally the only remnant of those days. And I agree, there’s no comparison in substance between the superstore remodels and the increasingly lightweight “makeovers” that have passed for remodels since. In modern-day dollars, the superstore conversions would be hugely expensive.

    Ken – I think the superstore program was a very important step on Kroger’s rise in the grocer rankings, fueled in recent years, of course by acquisitions as opposed to any one store image program. The Midwest probably received the biggest boost in terms of shoring up market share, but the sunbelt markets you cite benefited as well. The commitment to Market Basket was never really there, as best I can tell.

    Dan – Thanks for sharing your firsthand memories of the early superstore days and the ad campaigns –very cool! And I’m in total agreement that the superstores every outclassed Kroger prototype since (or before, really). Interesting notes about Big Bear as well – Penn Traffic has never struck me as an upscale operator, so it had to be a major mismatch. And as far as A&P goes, I think if they had been as aggressive with a strong interior superstore package as they were the previous decade with the “Centennial” facades, their history would have played out very differently. As it was, the centennial units often had very nondescript interiors, in contrast to the great-looking facades. And thanks for the list of Kroger oddities –great!

    Another Ken – That’s very interesting – did that store’s exterior have the good old “basket-weave” pylon? I’ve always loved those!

    The original Ken – The A&P New Orleans store was a great design package and should have been rolled out on a much larger scale. It would have helped them. I have seen pics of a couple of A&P ‘s that really did look like Winn-Dixies, but assumed they were just isolated cases. Thanks for the additional detail on the superstore decor!

    Anonymous - What’s the A&P “Jet” prototype? In any case, I agree, they were and continue to be all over the map with banner changes.

    Anonymous 2 – I wondered about that, given the visible SupeRx sign. Thanks-

    Steven – Those were the days, right?

    Didi – I have seen that. It seems to me to be a really good move for Kroger as the “discount food” arena in Chicago doesn’t appear to be dominated by any one player these days. Also, it’s interesting to ponder whether or not Kroger may be testing the waters for a possible reintroduction of the main brand. Right now, I’ll bet it’s somewhat of a novelty for Chicago shoppers to be able to buy Kroger brands (which are typically very good, btw) since most have no recollection of Kroger stores ever being there.

    Anonymous – I think by and large it was a major boost to Kroger. The “brutalist” style was pretty popular in those days, but I would classify this more as Bavarian or heavy-beamed English Tudor, which was also quite popular(the “Kings Island” look everywhere you turned), and Kroger’s version seemed well executed to me. I agree with your take on A&P and Winn-Dixie’s piecemeal exits from certain markets, and how poorly that served those companies, also on their overreliance on manufacturing profits at the expanse of the store ops.

    Dan- Most retailers could only dream of such a successful reformatting, and I don’t think your analogies are farfetched.

    Christopher – Thanks for making that point on Kroger’s Detroit dominance.

    Ken – Interesting that Kroger’s exit from St. Louis bought some time for National. They disappeared from Chicago, an area they used to be very strong in, far earlier.

    Anonymous – National’s “New Orleans-styled” stores were excellent, one of the few formats I would put in league with the Kroger superstores.

    Steven (and Didi) – They sure were grocery-themed cards, sold by Ambassador, Hallmark’s grocery line. As I recall, they were “All-occasion” cards that made some sort of witty reference to the pictured product.

    Dcseain – Sounds like you had a good basis for comparison, had I visited a Kroger superstore when it was new and compared them to the hometown Chicago stores (although some were excellent), I would probably felt the same way!

    Ken – Big Lots must have cut some sort of real estate deal with Kroger, or at least it seems that way! Interesting note about the locations of the old vs. new stores.

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  24. I'm almost certain several of the more 'Worldly' fixtures (cheese shop, bakery roof) have been rescued and are being used as part of Jungle Jim's (http://junglejims.com) decor.

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  25. Chris - That looks like an incredible store! I poked around their website looking for photos that might have shown more interior details, but couldn't find any. The place must be a tourist attraction!

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  26. While passing through southwest Ohio last week, I took the opportunity to visit the Big Lots store in West Chester. I don't know if it had gone through a recent remodeling or what, but I was underwhelmed: There were no wood shingles or lights left; and even the floor tiles and entrance configuration had been changed. I also stopped by Jungle Jim's in Fairfield; and although I didn't notice any superstore artifacts there, either, the atmosphere and sheer depth of decor at that place makes a Kroger downright trite by comparison! There were waterfalls outside the entrance; a full-size boat by the fish department, and various ethnic storefronts for international foods. That place was practically a supermarket, museum, and amusement park rolled into one: It really has to be seen to be believed!

    I also revisited the former superstore in Princeton, WV (still the best-preserved example I know of) and took a few photos of a Kroger in Gassaway, WV; one of the few reasonably-unaltered superstores still in operation in the area.

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  27. Andrew - Thanks, and those are great new pics on your Flickr page. The Gassaway store is a virtual Kroger museum!

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  28. Awesome! This reminds me of the Kroger we had on Charlestown Road in New Albany, IN until it closed around 1994 or so. It was never modernized which is why I loved going in there. Thanks so much for sharing all those pictures with us.

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  29. The Kroger superstores definately had a significant impact on the market in Central Georgia. Kroger has been in Macon,Ga since the late 1950's, but the stores were small and outnumbered (2 stores) compared to Piggly Wiggly (10 stores, Colonial (6 stores) and Winn Dixie (4 stores)

    The superstore was important in the respect that it was done at a time when the big 3's stores were starting to become old and stale, a

    The 1973 superstore (a 1963 rebuild) next to K-mart doubled sales for that location, And the 1975 East Macon and 1978 North macon stores (new construction) were so sucessful for kroger that all the above locations were replaced with more sucessful greenhouse locations, allowing kroger claim the #1 spot in 1985, and expand to a total of 8 locations in Macon, wheras colonial left in 1986, and winn dixie in 1982. Piggly Wiggly currently operates one store here.

    The Superstore concept definately left an indelible impression in this region of the country, as Kroger is still #1 in the marketplace, even with the intorduction of Publix, Food Lion and Wal-Mart supercenters. Kroger's 1970's creation laid the foundation for grocery dominance.

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  30. I remember these Superstore Kroger stores very well - there were still quite a few stores just like this operating when Kroger pulled out of St. Louis in the late 80s, although some had been replaced by newer "Greenhouse" type stores. Most of the Greenhouse stores became either Schnucks, National, or Shop n' Save which was emerging as a major player in St.L around that time, while most of the old superstores were not snatched up by other grocers.

    The Superstore in Fenton, MO which was EXACTLY like the one in the picture and the conjoined former Gasen's drug store was remodeled into a Shop N' Save, and later became a Big Lots. There is a Superstore building that still from the exterior looks the same that is now a bank in Kirkwood, MO near St. Louis.

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  31. the second shot looks like the old kroger location in Lawrenceville Ga which is now a Big Lots. It still retains the brik patterned floor tile and you can glimpse some of the wall paper in a spot whre they have moved some shelves

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  32. The second picture looks identical to the Kroger superstore in Nashville (Bell Rd and Mufreesboro Rd). This was the closest grocery store and the one we went to the most.

    They've updated the exterior since then to match the newer stores, but the layout inside is still the same.

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  33. Chris - I lived in the Nashville area from 1988 through 2003 and drove by that intersection probably a hundred times or more, but don't think I ever set foot in that particular Kroger!

    I'll have to check it out on a future visit there.

    There was a pizza place called "Picnic Pizza" just up Murfreesboro Road from there that I loved, run by an Italian family from New York City that moved to Nashville sometime in the 90's. Great food, and they were always very entertaining!

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  34. What location is the outdoor picture of the Kroger/SuperX? It looks like the old Greenville, Ohio Kroger store. I was very young, but I remember a SuperX being right next to it just like in the picture!

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  35. The second photo of the outside of Kroger looks an awful lot like the one that was located in Sharonville, OH on Rt. 42. It has closed but reopened just across the street a few years ago.
    I remember shopping there and the Kroger in Tylersville (West Chester), where Big Lots is now. This one also closed in the late 80's and moved directly across the street and was marketed as one of their "Future Stores". It had a Kiosk where you could look up the location of items in the store and print out recipes. It had a touch screen that didn't work very well. Ahead of it's time for the late 80's.

    I'll never forget at these superstores coming to the cheese section and rolling the cart over the tile floor. I guess that was there to slow you down so you would look at the fancy cheeses and dried meats. It made an awful racket, but I miss the sound and the decor.

    Who remembers the Kroger that used to be located in the Tri-County Mall? Just across from Sears. I remember stopping there once in a while when I was very young. Shortly before or during the time Tri-County Mall added a second floor, it had been closed. I always thought that was convenient to have a grocery in the mall. After your clothes shopping, you stop at the grocery store. Then go home. No need for an extra stop.

    Thanks for the great photos and history. Brings back memories.

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