Showing posts with label J.M. Fields. Show all posts
Showing posts with label J.M. Fields. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Very Good Start For Zayre

Although the first Zayre department store didn’t open until 1956, the chain’s beginnings date back to 1919, with the formation of The New England Trading Company, an underwear and hosiery wholesaler. Founded in the Boston area by brothers Max and Morris Feldberg, the company began as a supplier to full-line department stores and specialty shops. Ten years later, the brothers launched their first retail operation, Bell Hosiery Shops (later shortened to “Bell Shops”). Within a few years, the Bell Shops product line began to expand beyond underwear and hosiery to include other clothing lines. By the mid-30’s, the Bell Shops were full-blown women’s’ specialty stores, competing against such chains as Lerner Shops and Three Sisters. There were nearly 30 Bell Shops in the New England area by the end of World War II.

In 1946, the company doubled its store count with its buyout of New York City-based Nugents, another women’s’ specialty store chain with a great deal of similarity in approach to Bell Shops. The Nugents chain (whose name would be retained), with its store base in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Washington, DC provided a natural extension of the company’s market area with virtually no overlap.

By the early 1950’s, the company’s sales had reached a plateau, and it became clear to the Feldbergs that fairly drastic changes would need to be undertaken in order for their business to remain viable. Despite classy remodelings, and in some cases the opening of larger stores, the Bell Shops/Nugents stores were losing ground due to two important trends, among others – the decline of downtown business districts (with notable exceptions, such as the Quincy and Malden, Massachusetts locations, where the city fathers had the foresight to provide large downtown free parking areas) and the rise of the “mill” discount store operations, a trend that literally rose up in the company’s backyard.

With the family’s second generation, Stanley H. Feldberg (son of Max) and Sumner A. Feldberg (son of Morris) now in positions of high responsibility, the company began to explore its options. A considerable effort was put into studying the wildly successful mill stores, particularly Cumberland, Rhode Island-based Ann and Hope. The mill stores – Ann and Hope, Mammoth Mart, J.M. Fields and others, shared a common formula for success. With a host of closed, empty textile mills available at dirt-cheap rents, these companies began operation selling mainly clothing, linens and other softlines. Eventually space was leased out to other firms offering such items as shoes, jewelry, tools or appliances, starting the tradition of leased departments in discount stores. As these companies became more prosperous, they began to build their own new stores, either free-standing and/or in shopping centers, allowing much greater visibility along with the many other benefits of custom-built facilities. In a sense, these firms eventually assumed the characteristics of a traditional “chain store” corporate structure.

Having settled on discounting as the logical new direction in which to take their company, the Feldbergs decided to forgo the “mill building” route, preferring to launch with a newly constructed store when the opportunity presented itself. In late 1955, that opportunity came when Stop & Shop, Inc. approached with an offer to build them a store alongside a new Stop & Shop supermarket to be constructed in Hyannis, Massachusetts. In June 1956, the Hyannis Zayre store opened, a whopping 5,000 square feet in size. The store was soon expanded to 7,500 and then 10,000 square feet, and was replaced in 1962 with a 45,000 square foot unit directly behind it. The second Zayre opened in September 1956 in the Roslindale section of Boston, with a much larger footprint of 39,000 square feet. Within a few years, Zayre stores would typically average 70,000 to 90,000 square feet.

Longtime New York Times retail writer Isadore Barmash explained the origin of the chain’s name in a 1985 article – “One day, the Feldbergs and Bert Stern, an advertising consultant, were casting around for possible names for the new operation when Max broke off to take a call. He ended his phone conversation with a typical Jewish phrase: ‘Zehr gut’ or ‘very good.’ Mr. Stern repeated ‘Zehr, where, we need a nice-sounding name.’ The men stared at one another. ‘Zehr – let’s spell it Zayre’ – for very good, they decided.” And thus, Zayre became part of the discounting pantheon.

By 1961, there were fifteen Zayre stores in operation, racking up $50 million in annual sales. Much faster growth would come in the early 1960’s. Zayre was off to a “very good” start, to be sure.

Pictured above is a circa 1962 Zayre store in the standard configuration that so many of us grew up with. Below are exterior and interior shots of the first Zayre store (tiny by comparison) in Hyannis, Massachusetts, shortly after its opening.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Big Bargains at Bradlees

At the start of the 1960’s, Stop & Shop was enjoying great success, with over 100 mostly large, modern supermarkets, adding between fifteen and twenty per year. The majority of their new locations were in shopping centers, and increasingly the company served as the prime developer of those centers, leasing space alongside their own stores to popular but less well-capitalized discount store chains, most frequently Zayre or J.M. Fields. The time had come to bring a discount operation of their own into the fold.

In February 1961, Stop & Shop entered the discounting world with the purchase of Bradlees, Inc., a six-store discount store chain founded in 1958 by Isadore Berson, Morris and Edward Kouzon. Thrown into the deal was a seven-store chain of children’s clothing stores called “Youth Centre”, founded in 1937 in Springfield, Massachusetts, also by Mr. Berson. At the time of the acquisition, both chains’ stores were concentrated in the Hartford, CT and Springfield, MA areas. Stop & Shop would dispose of the Youth Centre stores fairly quickly, but the Bradlees chain would prosper and grow under their aegis for many years, becoming one of the best-known retail institutions in the Northeast. The existing Bradlees management was left in place for the first year, and after that time, Stop & Shop opted to go pedal-to-the-metal in expanding the Bradlees operation. New stores were built from the ground up, and acquisitions were made, including the three-store Family Circle chain of New Jersey and the Orbit stores, another three store operation, of Massachusetts. By 1968, there would be nearly 50 Bradlees stores.

The above view is circa 1962, a Stop & Shop-developed shopping center in Northampton, Massachusetts called Kingsgate Plaza. In addition to the Bradlees and Stop & Shop, note the Grants store in between them. At the time the W.T. Grant Company, a venerable old variety chain, was in the midst of a furious (over)expansion nationwide, adding some 100 stores a year. The shopping center still exists and is still owned by Stop & Shop, with a Super Stop & Shop now standing in the former Bradlees location.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Stop & Shop, Bigger & Better

Stop & Shop was as aggressive as any major chain in replacing their small urban grocery stores with larger shopping center-based stores through the late fifties and early sixties. As the photos above show, they carried this out using an interesting variety of architectural designs, with an obvious focus on their large, block-lettered logotype.

They made a number of acquisitions during the period, most notably the Tedeschi chain in 1961, a six-store operation with stores located mostly in southeastern Massachusetts. Unlike Stop & Shop’s other acquisitions, management opted in this case to maintain the Tedeschi name and retain the existing management for those stores. Like a number of other chains, Stop & Stop also recognized the value of locating next to discount stores. Note the adjacent “J.M. Fields” sign in the first photo. Fields would be acquired by fellow supermarket chain Food Fair, in 1961, the same year in which Stop & Shop would themselves buy out the six-store Bradlees chain. By 1962, Stop & Shop was active in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

The photos above, top to bottom, show the following locations: Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1958, Hyde Park, MA also from ’58, Medford, MA from 1957, Manchester, Connecticut circa 1960, East Providence, RI from 1962, and Concord, New Hampshire from the same year.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Food Fair's Philly Trifecta - 1966

On the same day in April 1966, Food Fair opened three stores in greater Philadelphia of this exact prototype, shown first in an artist’s rendering, than in a photo of the real thing (or one of the three real things, I guess). Look at it – an ordinary supermarket, transformed into something pretty special with the addition of the superb, Calder-esque metalwork out front.

Food Fair as a company was in fine shape at the time, coming off a $1.2 billion sales year and a tally of 554 stores (including 54 J.M. Fields department stores) located along the entire Eastern seaboard and as far away as Southern California (the 51 Fox Markets). The honeycomb-style logo was Food Fair’s standard in the 1960’s.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Fields of Food Fair

As mentioned before, in the later fifties and early sixties, many successful supermarket chains eagerly sought to branch out into non-food discount retail. There were a number of reasons for this, including the desire to leverage a management and merchandising approach that had already proven successful in foods. Another reason was that by this time, many of the larger chains were developing their own shopping centers/real estate and wanted to capitalize on the traffic their supermarkets were generating instead of giving up that benefit to outside firms. A major reason, of course, was the fact that profit margins generally were (and are) considerably higher on general merchandise items than on food.

Salem, Massachusetts-based J.M. Fields was not Food Fair’s first choice for a merger partner. In fact, as early as 1959, Food Fair president Louis Stein expressed a strong interest in acquiring E.J. Korvette, Inc., the white-hot discounter who was in the midst of a meteoric rise to prominence in retail circles and was a darling of Wall Street. Stein could not come to terms with Korvette founder Eugene Ferkauf, so Food Fair tabled the whole idea for several years.

On August 14, 1961, Food Fair closed on its purchase of Enterprise-J.M. Fields, Inc., a chain of 33 discount stores with locations in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina and Florida. Fields was one of many New England-based retail chains that began their existence as “mill stores”, which sold mostly clothes and linens in their early years, later adding other types of goods. The American textile industry, for much of the country’s existence, was concentrated in the New England states. To save labor costs, the industry fled en masse to the Southern states in the 1950’s and 60’s (sadly, it has since fled en masse to Asia). In several cases, the abandoned factories were then converted to giant outlet stores, from which a number of well-known chains grew. The Feldman family transformed their mill operation into what would become the J.M. Fields discount stores. Other chains who started in this fashion were Lechmere, Atlantic Stores, Mammoth Mart (one of the coolest!) and Ann and Hope, among several others.

Over the next decade or so, Fields prospered under Food Fair, opening many new stores in FF-developed shopping centers. The 1970’s ultimately proved to be rough going for Food Fair (whose stores would eventually go by the name Pantry Pride), and the J.M. Fields stores were sold off early in the company’s 1978 bankruptcy. A fun personal reflection (and photo) of shopping at J.M. Fields can be found at this link.