Friday, January 8, 2010

2009 : A Retro-Retrospective

Last year at this time, one of the sites I follow on a regular basis, Jess Cliffe’s Vintage Seattle, ran a very cool retrospective highlighting the more popular posts of the previous year. Upon reading this, the second thought that came to my mind was “Wow, he’s covered some great stuff this year!” The first was “Dang, I wish I’d thought of that!”

So in the interest of originality, here goes – a quick look back at the major topics featured here in 2009. I’ve included different photos here from those that appeared originally, as a means of breathing life into musty, recycled content enhancing this encore presentation of favorites.

Note: Highlighted text links back to the original post series, unless otherwise noted.
(In my best Gene Autry “Rudolph” voice, despite Christmas being over) “But do you recallll, the most famous dead mall of all…” By a large margin, the “most famous” one is the Dixie Square Mall, the crumbling hulk of which still stands in Harvey, Illinois, a far south suburb of Chicago. Open for a mere 12 years, Dixie Square achieved dead mall immortality (how’s that for an oxymoron?) a year after its closing when it hosted the famous chase scene in the 1980 movie “The Blues Brothers”. We explored the fascinating history of Dixie Square, set to a wonderful accompaniment of classic circa-1968 photos.

The photo above dates from a bit earlier, not long after the mall’s late 1966 opening, showing (presumably) a mother and daughter leaving the Montgomery Ward store with a nice big bag of purchases. Sadly, the Wards store is the one portion of the mall that no longer exists, having been torn down about four years back.
We extended our series on the history of Kroger into the 60’s and 70’s, with special emphasis on the groundbreaking Superstores. Like stepping into an 18th century Bavarian village it was, with the added benefit of Top Value stamps! This circa-1970 photo pre-dates the Superstore era by about three years, and if you click to enlarge, you can make out details of the upscale 1960’s Kroger decor package in the background.
“Going to the movies” has been part of America’s suburban shopping culture for decades now, a phenomenon that can largely be credited to the General Cinema Corporation, a popular subject of this site early last year. GCC pioneered the idea of the shopping center theatre in the early 1950’s, but during the 60’s and 70’s the concept really took off, with hundreds of General Cinema theaters springing up at shopping centers and malls everywhere. For millions of Americans like me, the sight of the oh-so-familiar white buildings with their laconic signage (usually just the word “Cinema”) is indelibly linked with our childhood moviegoing experience.

Pictured above is the original General Cinema theatre, which opened at Shoppers World, that great pioneering outdoor mall, in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1951. The photo was taken in 1963 at the Cinema’s “grand re-opening” ceremonies (note the band playing in front of the entrance) celebrating the addition of a second auditorium. Ten years later, two additional screens would be added. My thanks to David Wodeyla, who has a great General Cinema memories site along with fine tributes to bygone days in Natick and Framingham, Massachusetts. Thanks also to Michelle McElroy, whose site, called This Is Framingham, offers an entertaining past-and-present look at that historic town, for her help.
We examined the history of Montgomery Ward from its earliest days as a mail-order house serving America’s farm families, through the early decades of its retail store development, the near-disastrous 1940’s and early 50‘s, to the beginning of “the great comeback” as a primarily mall-based chain in the late 1950’s. There’s more to the story – “to be continued”, as the old saying goes.

This photo is from the early 1960’s, showing a catalog order desk that was typical of the newer, larger mall-based Wards stores of the day. You know, I’m needing to order something from, but all of a sudden I feel really underdressed!
April Fools’ Day 2009, the day Pleasant Family Shopping “went commercial”. Painstakingly crafted fake banner ads and the tackiest product-placement copy I could dream up. Delighted some readers, confused others, and (probably) ticked off still others. Woo, won’t do that again!

The original post, which I hope you don’t read, is here.
We took an in-depth look at Winn-Dixie, a chain that once blanketed the entire Southeast and extended to Texas. Today, the company fights on valiantly in a much smaller geographic area, which includes select cities in Florida and other Gulf Coast markets. Shown in this 1967 photo is a new, as yet unopened Winn-Dixie store, location unknown. I’m hoping that the unusual blue background for the sign triggers someone’s memory.
Woolco, the long gone but widely remembered discount store division of variety store pioneer F.W. Woolworth Co. was our next subject, bringing a nice outpouring of memories from many readers. Around for just 20 years, Woolco stores eventually ended up in most regions of the country. They existed into the early 90’s in Canada. Speaking of our friendly neighbor to the north, an interesting thing happened some weeks after the series of posts on Woolco was completed. One day I noticed that the site received some 200 hits in the space of an hour that morning from the greater Toronto area. The search query was virtually the same on all of them – “what was woolco’s cafeteria called?” or “name of woolco restaurant”. I’m guessing that particular question must have come up on a radio call-in contest that morning. I sincerely hope that I helped someone win an iPhone or some equally priceless treasure. (The answer, by the way, is the “Red Grille”.)

One of the Woolco posts showed several photos of the Graceland Shopping Center store in Columbus, Ohio, taken in 1970. This photo shows that same store as it appeared near the time of its opening in 1962.
“Once you’ve shopped at Publix, you can’t get it out of your mind.” So say many of Publix’s customers over the years, especially those who’ve moved out of their market areas and no longer have easy access to Publix stores. After taking a close look at the great style of Publix stores through the years, I’m convinced of it! This photo depicts the Southgate Shopping Center location in Winter Haven, Florida, not long after its opening in 1958.
In September, we tossed our normal routine and decided to take a pleasure drive – shopping, of course – on a typical day in mid-70’s suburbia, in this case the Addison/Villa Park area in west suburban Chicago. Along the way, we stopped at no less than six fast food places. (They say that it’s healthier to eat several small meals a day, right?) Twenty-five superb photos by longtime Addison resident Joe Archie, taken in 1976, accompanied by some 5,700 words of text (or 10 pages of single-spaced Calibri –whew!). It drew many new readers and was well received by friends of the site. This photo, taken by Mr. Archie in the mid-1980’s, shows the Zayre store in Addison after the late 1970’s revamp, with the brown-and-orange striped design scheme. Their last major slogan, “We’d like to make Zayre your store”, is visible on a sign hanging in the window. I imagine the owner of the (powder blue, of course) Plymouth Duster in the foreground was stocking up on Bondo.
And then, the loyal customers of G.C. Murphy exclaimed “At last…a Mart of our own!” The Murphy’s Marts were was a bit late in coming, and even then were only around for 15 years or so, but most who remember them do so fondly. In my opinion, their store interiors were among the nicest of the early 70’s discount stores. This photo is circa 1971.
Currently, we’re exploring the history of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, which we’ll call A&P just for fun. They’ve been around for 150 years, and we’re two-thirds of the way through the timeline, most recently featuring the legendary Early American-styled “Centennial” stores. Speaking of which, here’s a nice one from 1972, a Greenwich, Connecticut store that almost looks more like a garden center on the beautiful early spring day it was photographed. The dark-colored signage on white brick makes for a nice “reverse-type” effect. Their ladder must have been a bit too short to reach the peak when they were hanging the pennant streamer across the facade - reminds me of our Christmas lights one year. To be continued….

Well, I’ve enjoyed reliving memories of reliving memories with you. Hope we’ve gotten to some of your favorite old retail subjects. If not, maybe this year!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy 2010, and welcome as we launch a brand new year of Pleasant Family Shopping, where we take a look back at the destinations of everyday life – supermarket and discount store chains, department stores, and maybe even one or two of those wild new "indoor malls"!

The thing is, even the “everyday” can be fascinating, when you look back at it and see how much even basic things have changed through the years. Here, we delve into some of the history of the companies behind these chains, and we look at how changing times affected the companies, the people who shopped at their stores, and of course, the styles – architectural, clothing and otherwise.

Best of all are the photos – digitally remastered (sort of) for display on today’s hi-tech computer screens!

Let’s start the year off with a circa 1964 (dramatization of a) real-life supermarket checkout scene! Notice how the lady’s outfit is perfectly coordinated with the store’s tile floor (which is only proper, if you really think about it). The checkout man is definitely on top of his game where it counts - courtesy, accuracy, and most importantly, artistic placement of food items on the conveyor belt.

At the time, all of the items shown, minus the produce, cheese and bread, were products of General Foods Corporation, for whom this photo was taken. A number of them, as I’m sure you well know, are still staples of kitchen cabinets all over America. Probably my favorite item here is the bottle of Tang, favorite of aspiring young astronauts everywhere. Just need some Space Food Sticks to go with it!