The floors are washed and waxed, the checkout lanes fully stocked with paper bags, and the cash registers are loaded with change and crisp new bills. We’re ready to launch a new year of Pleasant Family Shopping, a look at the everyday places that make up a surprising share of our youthful memories, in part because we spent so darn much time at them! I’m referring to the chain stores – the supermarkets and discount stores, and the shopping centers and malls that our parents dragged us to as kids. The places we took so much pride in driving to when we finally got our own license and wheels. The places where many of us held our first jobs, made lifelong friends and even met future spouses.
One doesn’t have to be very old to notice how much these places have changed over the years. If you’re over 25, you’ve already seen a good number of household names come and go, and for those of us over 40, the current retail scene is a universe apart from that of our youth. Over time, as the extent of these changes has sunk in and life has become more complicated in so many ways, it’s amazing how nostalgic many of us have become about them, to the point where our “shopping memories” are seemingly right up there alongside the dream vacations, Disney trips and other highlights we may have experienced in years past.
Fortunately, many of these places were photographed in their prime, and it’s the goal of this website to present them as they were, along with the sometimes surprising, often frustrating, but almost always interesting history behind the great American retail firms from which these stores sprang. Your own memories are an extremely vital part of things here – they truly complete the picture, and I want to express my deepest thanks to those of you who continue to share them with the rest of us through your comments.
The photo above shows the checkout area of a Food Fair supermarket, as depicted in a 1962 ad for Kentile Floors, a long-defunct manufacturer of asbestos tile flooring, strangely memorialized by identical neon signs that still stand in Brooklyn and Chicago. I love the pattern of the tile floor in relation to the checkstands, almost a “starting block and running lane” pattern. (Had food been this closely involved, I might have gone out for track-and-field in high school.) The store’s pastel colors and the style of cash registers lead me to believe that the store may have been a few years old at the time this photo was taken, and that the tile flooring was a new upgrade, although I'm not certain of that. Also, note the one-line marquee on the back wall, a very common feature of 1950’s-era Food Fair stores that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere. Ordinarily it would to be used to promote a store special of some type.
Of course, today at least, it would have read “Happy New Year!” The best to you and yours for 2011!