Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Trip to the Jewel Grand Bazaar

It happened only once, so despite the passage of time it stands out in my memory. It was the night our family broke from the routine. The night we ventured out and tried something new. The night we threw our grocery-shopping inhibitions to the wind. It was The Night of the Jewel Roadtrip.

Sure, we had a Jewel Food Store right in the center of town. It was a late-fifties remodel, complete with the famous Jewel porcelain storefront and a quaint tin-tiled ceiling. We didn’t shop there often, however, because in the next town, some seven minutes away if you took your time, was a much larger, more modern Jewel-Osco food and drug combination store. With its far greater selection, most of our family’s food dollars (save for the occasional trip to Dominick’s) were spent there.

One fall evening, in 1977 to the best of my recollection, the folks told my brothers and I to load up into the car (a powder-blue Ford Torino station wagon – yes, we bought the dream), we were going grocery shopping at a new store near downtown Chicago (?!). To cut short the collective groan, they offered an explanation – this was a special store, different from what we were used to, with unique stuff and more of it. It was a “Super Jewel” or something like that. Suddenly, the prospect of getting out of studying on that school night finally registered – “Sounds really cool, Mom!”

So as night fell we drove, into the city, to the corner of 54th and Pulaski, whereupon we pulled into the fairly full parking lot of a large retail store. The familiar orange Jewel signage sported an unfamiliar name- “Jewel Grand Bazaar”. Wow! And different it was – sort of a combination of quasi-European Market Village (little mini-shops, faux Euro-decor with orange stripes everywhere) and sprawling warehouse (huge quantities of product in open-front wire cages). “Bazaar”, indeed!

Probably the most memorable aspect of that shopping experience (beside the store’s prime selection of Mad Magazine paperbacks, which was worth the long roundtrip in itself) was our first exposure to Jewel’s huge new “generic” product line, which at that time hadn’t been rolled out to the company’s entire store lineup yet. The generics were Jewel’s response to the economic travails of the late 70’s, when inflation seemed to reduce Americans’ purchasing power by the week. It was a “no-frills”, rock-bottom price product line, and it seemed to cover nearly every packaged food category imaginable. The traditional Jewel store brand names – Mary Dunbar, Bluebrook and Cherry Valley (long-standing house brands that were about to be phased out, replaced with a unified “Jewel” brand) , with their bright, colorful labels were tossed aside in favor of an austere look – plain white labels on uncoated paper stock and military style stenciled-look lettering. The only “decorative” element was a bi-colored stripe – black and olive drab. Now every suburban housewife could realize her dream – a pantry full of C-rations! Our family stocked up big time.

On September 27, 1973, the first Jewel Grand Bazaar store opened at 5320 South Pulaski Road in Chicago. At 90,000 square feet, the new store was nearly double the size of the typical Jewel-Osco store. The Grand Bazaar concept, more than two years in the making, “present(ed) new merchandising techniques to shoppers”, with “…wide use of palletized basket presentations in the customer shopping area”, as described in a Chicago Tribune article. As such, Jewel was one of the first major supermarket retailers to introduce the concept of buying in bulk. As mentioned, among the Bazaar’s most notable features were its “shops within the store”, including the Chef’s Kitchen (a name already in use by Jewel) prepared foods section, a bake shop, the “Pier 14” fresh seafood area, and the “Cheese Chalet” (later called the “Country Cheese Shop”), where quarter-ton blocks of Wisconsin Cheddar were routinely wheeled in, to be parceled off in small wedges for delighted customers.

The Grand Bazaars were loosely based on the Hypermarch√© (Hypermarket) concept, which gained significant popularity in Europe starting in the 1970’s. A typical European Hypermarket was a very big store, 200,000 square feet or more, offering a large selection of general merchandise and a full supermarket lineup, with many heavier-volume items sold in bulk. Influenced by this, Jewel had indeed begun development of a Hypermarket idea of its own at the time, although it never came to fruition. At 90,000 square feet and carrying a more limited selection of general merchandise, the Jewel-Osco Grand Bazaars at least qualified, according to Chicago Tribune business columnist George Lazarus, for the title “hypergrocery”. When you consider that many of the Grand Bazaars were coupled with a (Jewel-owned) Turn-Style discount store, they were at least close to the mark.

One pioneering aspect of the Grand Bazaars was the use of electronic checkstands, utilizing “20 electronic itemizing stations” with “four separate stations for payment”. Electronic cash registers were very much a new thing for Jewel (and anyone else fortunate enough to have them yet) in 1973, and it would be a couple more years before the UPC (Universal Product Code) system was fully in place. There were also “cart-to-car” pickup systems in the Bazaar stores, which was in one sense a holdover from a more service-oriented era. And in response to the growing “consumerist” movement of the day, each Bazaar featured a “Consumer Corner” staffed with its own full-time home economist, ready and willing to provide a sympathetic ear and sound advice. (“Well you know, I’ve had issues with shish kabob since high school…”)

Within six months of opening, the Pulaski Road Grand Bazaar was drawing 30,000 customers weekly and was projected to hit $20 million a year in sales according to Donald Perkins, Jewel’s highly-respected chairman, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune. The store’s Osco Drug unit, Perkins said, was the highest grossing in the Chicago area. The press weighed in favorably as well - Trib columnist George Lazarus pronounced the Grand Bazaars “an enormous success”, and mentioned that “according to sources”, Jewel had plans in place to have 12 to 15 Grand Bazaars operating at some point. Lazarus relayed an exciting finding of Jewel management – “The beautiful part of the Grand Bazaar story is that these stores aren’t taking much, if any, business away from other Jewel and Osco stores.”

Two additional Grand Bazaars opened in the summer of 1974, on 87th Street at the Dan Ryan Expressway and at the intersection of Grand and Kostner Avenues. Within the next few years, other Grand Bazaars would follow – 115th and Halsted, Rockford, Franklin Park and even in Milwaukee, a new Jewel market at the time, where the company wisely featured local favorite Meurer Bakery in place of their standard Bake Shop.

One of the grandest Grand Bazaar openings ended up being one of the last. In February 1977, the seventh Jewel Grand Bazaar opened up as part of the first phase of The Brickyard, a rare in-city mall project that received much laudatory press for that very fact. The rise, fall and hoped-for comeback of The Brickyard is well-documented on this recent Labelscar post.

By the end of the 1970’s, the Grand Bazaar concept seemed to just fade away. After 1978, Jewel’s annual reports are silent on the subject. One can assume that they took away certain lessons from the venture and just moved on – larger food/drug combination stores were the way to go, bulk bins of product, not so much. Several of the stores continued to operate for years with Grand Bazaar signage still in place, including the Franklin Park store where I shopped a number of times in the mid-80’s, but for all intents and purposes they were standard Jewel-Osco stores by then – no bulk bins, no cheese block, no home economist. The Rockford store was converted to a “Magna” no-frills warehouse store. Today, some of the stores live on as Jewel-Oscos, the Franklin Park unit being a nicely renovated example.

When I left the Chicago area in 1987, the “Generics” line was still available, although it had greatly diminished in popularity in those more prosperous times. At some point it was phased out, although a number of deep-discount grocery stores continue to stock plain-jane staple goods today. Though the economy of the last few years could arguably be compared to that of the late 70’s, generic products have not made a comeback in this age of brand power. The major chains have wisely taken the cue, ramping up their store brands’ quality and label-appeal, and everything I’ve read says that strategy is paying off handsomely. Now if they could only bring back those home economists…

The photos above are all 1970’s Jewel publicity shots, and the stylized Grand Bazaar font and “J” logo can be seen in several of them. The first photo, from 1974, shows the brand new Grand Bazaar at 87th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway. Photos 2 through 10 are all from the Brickyard Mall location, 1977. The camera and cosmetics department views show the typical interior design scheme of late 70’s/early 80’s Osco Drug stores. The black and white photo, from 1974, shows the Milwaukee location, with the Meurer Bakery featured prominently. Next is a 1975 aerial view of the Grand and Kostner store, with good neighbor Turn-Style to the right. The last two photos, from 1973, feature the very first Jewel Grand Bazaar at 54th and Pulaski, where some smart shoppers have selected giant boxes of Tide, "the washday miracle", a photogenic consumer product if there ever was one. This is the store that my family and I visited on that fateful evening described above.

Below, from 1977, is a close-up view of some of the Jewel Generics product line. You’ll notice that the ladies in the background have adopted “generic” facial expressions, in keeping with the spirit of things.

23 comments:

  1. Dave, I love that last photo! Those ladies look as happy about the generic products as I was. Oh the generic peanut butter...GROSS! I will never forget it!

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  2. I definitely remember the generic items, with the stencil font, as being available in our local Jewel well into the 80's. I swear that my neighbor-who collects beer cans-has a beer can that looks just like this, with the simple name "BEER".

    Doesn't Jewel still use the Pier 14 name for it's seafood departments? I know that our local store (in St. Charles) was still using it when I was younger-I haven't been near the seafood section in a while, if they even still have one!

    Come to think of it, a lot of the photos in this article look kind of familiar-I think that store had the mid 70's decor for a long time!

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  3. I remember our own little road trip on the CTA 65/Grand to the Grand Bazaar at Grand & Kostner...most impressive to this otherwise already cynical 15 year old in 1975. For some reason the generics impressed me the most...screw the flashy marketing, just give me what I want :) I definitely remember the "Beer" in the Jewel generic section. (Lucky stores in California had generic "Vodka" with plain black-on-yellow label...and their "Turkey Chili" was quite tasty!)

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  4. I have never seen so many garrish 70s colors swirl altogether so brilliantly. I LOVE it! I wish my parents had been so bold to experiment on a school night.

    Unfortunately, I was too late to ever visit a Jewel Grand Bazaar. But I do recall some of their generics looking like that very last photo in '89 or the very early 90s. Most notably the Corn Flakes. In college, a friend of mine and I would talk on the phone for hours about growing up in the 80s. her mother had to raise six kids so money was tight and she bought lots of generics including "The Jewel brand of cereal that was so basic, it was a white box with black letters that said Corn Flakes." LOL!

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  5. Ah, the thatched-roof detailing inside some '70s Eisner stores! Fond memories! The generics are seared into my memory as well; as a kid, I wondered if they were military rations what with that font and all.

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  6. And geez, you can tell where I'm from, I'm still calling it "Eisner." I meant Jewel!

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  7. One correction, 54th & Plaski is not exactly near Downtown Chicago.

    I don't know the SW side all that well put being familiar with Plaski on the NW side it would have to be quite a distsnce from Dowtown but anyway it's great to see some more Chicago related stuff again.

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  8. These are great photos, but...man, did Jewel overload on the orange walls or what? :-)

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  9. Oh Dave, how can I ever thank you for that incredible trip down memory lane to the Jewel Grand Bazaar?

    My paternal grandparents lived right behind the behemoth. My perplexed grandmother would walk us over there, proclaiming in her thick Polish accent about how the place was "too big, too big" and that she could never find anything there.

    Like you, I scored big time in the book section with a "Cinderella" book that I still have and love!

    The trips with grandma were my only ones, though - my parents were heavily into the Treasury which was closer to home at 111th & Cicero, and were turned off by the initial huge crowds at the Bazaar.

    Some amazing photo finds once again, my friend! Thanks!

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  10. The generics seemed to evolve into a second-or-third tier private label for the grocery chains...Kroger has Private Selections at the top, Kroger brand (or Kroger-owned division) at the middle, and Kroger Value at the bottom.

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  11. You're lucky to have a shopping memory from '77. I remember going to Edenville Railroad in Carver, Massachusetts in December of that year, but that's about it ...

    The French really do love their hypermarkets; they really were the first people to bring the superstore concept into the fore.

    Having said that, Jewel looks like an early Walmart prototype!

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  12. Almost every chain had generics, which were pioneered by Loblaw in Canada. Often they had their own brand like Kroger's "Cost Cutter", Safeway's "Scotch Buy", and Loblaw/National Tea's "No Frills". Some of the items were okay like canned vegetables which could be combined with other food. The mac and cheese mixes were very popular. Some item items like the paer towels were poor quality and not a good value (you'd use 3 times as many as you would a good brand like Bounty).

    The Kostner and Dan Ryan stores were paired with TurnStyle stores. The Dan Ryan store was written up in trade magazines, in part, because it was a rare attempt at building a new store for middle class African-American shoppers.

    The effort to combine expanded fresh foods with a warehouse format prefigured other formats like Von's upscale Pavillions.

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  13. I used to LOVE those carts at Jewel when I was a kid. I always rode underneath. =]

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  14. Those generics look like they were designed for use in a fallout shelter...

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  15. By 1983-84, in collage, 'generic' became a joke word for something of low quality. We had a 'generic' theme party, dress in drab clothes and had drab decorations. "That's so generic".

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  16. Dwayne – I think the expressions are priceless, and I give serious kudos to their ad agency for not airbrushing them out! :)

    I agree with you on the generic peanut butter – we pretty much tried the whole generic product line, and that one stood out – ugh!

    Doug – I think beer was part of the generic line at least for a while. Wow, I can’t (and don’t want to) imagine what that would have tasted like!

    Jewel still uses the Pier 14 designation. Not sure that Dominick’s still uses “Neptune’s Cove”, though. Thanks!

    Mark – Sounds like your folks had the same idea! We (my brothers and I) were mesmerized by the generics – it was such a new, strange thing. Whatever the merits, they did draw a lot of attention. I wasn’t aware of Lucky’s generics, but I know that Ralphs had them, with two-tone blue stripes instead of olive drab/black –they even had a “generic flag” flying above their headquarters for a while!

    And I like homemade turkey chili, I’ll say that much! :)

    Didi – It was “well done garish”, if there can be such a thing!

    I remember seeing the generic corn flakes, but that’s one I can say I don’t remember actually trying. I’ve tried other store corn flake brands over the years, and none measure up to good old Kellogg’s. I think the simpler a product is, the more difficult it is to copy!

    I was still growing up (in part of the 80’s, at least!) and it’s amazing how different things are today. You don’t have to go back to the 60’s or 70’s to notice massive change.

    Noyoucmon – Eisner, Jewel, what’s the difference?! ;)

    Their standard stores were very similar to each other by the mid-60’s and stayed that way, but I’m not aware that they ever launched a Grand Bazaar in the Champaign territory. Correct me if I’m wrong!

    Mike – That’s my “suburban kid perspective” (still coming out after thirty years), but you’re right – it was a fairly good hike from downtown.

    Steve - Orange was Jewel’s color, but “overload” is a good way to put it! :)

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  17. Adrienne - You’re welcome, and glad you enjoyed the trip!

    I love the story about your grandmother, and had mine lived in Chicago and visited the store, she would have felt the same way. (And wouldn’t have been shy about saying so!) “Too big”, for sure! As mentioned, we never went back either.

    We loved the Treasury – shopped there when we still lived in NW suburbs at the Rolling Meadows location. It was big but didn’t seem to have the overwhelming feel of the Grand Bazaar.

    Jamcool – I’ve tried some of the Kroger Value stuff and it’s not bad. Most Kroger brand and Private Selection products we’ve tried have compared very well to their name-brand counterparts in my opinion, and as I said in the post, these store brands are doing extremely well today. As basic as the “Value” labeling is, there’s more to it than the stark look of the Jewel generics.

    Nightdragon – I guess that says something about my life at the time that a grocery shopping trip stands out! ;)

    I’ve seen only one or two interior shots of the Wal-Mart Hypermarket USA stores, and both they and the Jewel Grand Bazaar somewhat resemble the French Carrefour hypermarkets.

    Anonymous – I didn’t know that generics were a Loblaw innovation – thanks for that info! The one I like the best was the Safeway “Scotch Buy” line you mention – they used Ray Bolger (the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz), dressed as a Scotsman, kilt and all, in their commercials.

    It seems that every time a major retailer launched a project in the inner city, which I agree was (and is) all too rare, it became the subject of extensive write-ups in the trade press. A variety of motivations behind that, I’m sure.

    I’ve heard lots of good things about Pavilions and really need to visit one next time I’m out in L.A. Thanks!

    Kim – I did too, and was always glad when we shopped somewhere with the “high basket” carts that I could fit under. Of course after I hit 80 pounds or so, those days were over! :)

    WestVirginiaRebel – I agree, they have that “fallout shelter rations” look. Expiration dates are quite a bit sooner, though!

    Tomcat630 – I remember those days, when “generic” became part of our descriptive vocabulary. I think I saw the low point of that in high school photography class (’81), when this wise guy called one of the girls in class a “generic” version of another girl. She should have hit him with a developing tank!

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  18. Dave, I don't know if you shop at Aldi's but their basic brand of corn flakes matches up to Kellogg's. It isn't bad at all.

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  19. There's a TV vacuum tube tester in that shot of the Osco photo section. My dad used to use those all the time back when you could actually fix your own television.

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  20. Didi – We don’t have Aldi’s in our area yet (they’re inching there way here – I’d say we’ll see ‘em in the next year or two), but I’ll have to try their corn flakes. Maybe they’ll break the cycle!

    Michael - I noticed that and should have pointed out – thanks for doing that. Tube testers used to be available in quite a few places – 7-Elevens had them in all of their stores, I believe.
    The nice thing about today’s TV’s, it may knowledge at least, is that they don’t need service nearly as often!

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  21. TV's are now just disposable appliances. Once it dies, it's cheaper to get a new one. They do last longer. And, any new technology drops in price so fast.

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  22. Tomcat – You’re absolutely right - the proportional cost of a new TV is far less than it was back in the day, and now in most cases repairing them couldn’t begin to be worth it.

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  23. I remember generics SO well. Our local stores, particularly the Piggly Wiggly, had a vast array of generics. In fact they had one whole aisle devoted to them when they first came out. Picture it: Kenosha, Wisconsin, 1979. You're going down one aisle and it's colorful and happy; and you turn the corner into the next aisle and you're in a 1950's black-and-white TV show. It was so weird. But man, my mom grabbed as many of those puppies as she could.

    The present-day store-label brand generics are so much better. I actually oftentimes prefer them to the costlier name-brands... especially at Jewel.

    I don't remember Grand Bazaars, so I'm glad you featured them here. Interesting to note-- the Jewel logo attributed to Grand Bazaar stores was pretty much the prototype for the present-day Jewel logo, which they introduced in the late 1970s-early 1980s.

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