Thursday, September 27, 2007

Acme - Clean, Bright, Sparkling White

A paraphrase based on a Jewel Tea ad, but one that certainly applies here. Like its future stablemate, Acme Markets of the 40’s and early 50’s featured gleaming white porcelain facades. For the most part, the stores displayed the “Acme script” signage shown here, rendering a great iconic look that was used heavily in Acme newspaper ads. Most Acmes, like nearly all grocery stores of the era, ranged between only 5,000 and 10,000 square feet, lending to the quaint appearance. Ironically, these stores could still be spotted occasionally in urban Philadelphia and other areas as late as the early 1970’s, with some examples surviving even later than that.

Acme Markets was the trade name of American Stores Company, which had been in business for 30 years when these photos were taken. At the time, the company founder Samuel Robinson was still on their Board of Directors. In 1947, Acme had 1,921 stores, mostly in Eastern Pennsylvania and portions of the surrounding states. They battled head-to-head with “Grandma”, (the A&P, as fondly referred to by its longtime employees) and fellow Philly-based Food Fair for dominance in the ferociously competitive Philadelphia market, among others. One of the biggest challenges facing Acme (and most of the other major supermarket chains) during the era was the conversion of their stores from counter service to the self-service format. Evidently it was an arduous process, as even five years later, in 1952, only 55% of Acme’s stores were self-service units.

Here are a couple of links to some photos of similar Acme stores – a great 1966 photo featuring a 40's era Acme store at Wyoming and Rising Sun Avenue in Philadelphia, and another shot from 1991 of the Lambertville, NJ Acme in an incredibly good state of preservation. I’m curious to know if that one’s still around.


  1. Regarding the one in Philedelphia, I am shocked Acme still had stores that small back in the 60s when other supermarkets started to get bigger, expand with parking lots and into shopping malls.

    Nonetheless, all the photos including the ones in the link are simply a work of beauty. What would it take today to build a facde with porcelain?

  2. These stores were definitely the exception and not the rule for Acme in the 60's and 70's. They were pretty much as aggressive as anyone else in building new and bigger stores and getting into shopping centers, especially given their intense competition with Food Fair. They probably only stuck with these small stores in areas where the local market conditions or land availability didn't justify new stores.

    Those facades were either made of porcelain-coated brick or block or of porcelain-coated steel panels bolted to the face of a brick building. Looks like steel panels to me on the Acme pictures, but I could be wrong. Like everything else, this is probably not done today for cost reasons rather than "out-of-style-ness". There used to be many porcelained steel buildings on the landscape - the White Castles, etc. along with signs as well - the huge, long gone Holiday Inn arrow signs, for example, were all made of porcelained steel.

  3. Yea, cost of the porcelain steel is probably a lot more today. That is quite a shame considering stuff like that and also terra cotta as well made buildings look grand.

  4. Hello. I am a first time user to this area and would like to make a short comment about the Acme photos. As far as the porcelain front on many Acme Markets, you can take a drive up Germantown Ave. in Philadelphia and when you come to that type of store front, you can be assured that it was an Acme in the past.
    Keep the Acme pictures coming.

  5. Drmort,

    Thanks for the tip on the old Acme locations. I'll need to make a point of driving up Germantown Ave. the next time I'm up that way. I'm posting about some other East Coast chains right now, but hope to put up some more Acme stuff soon.

  6. The Acme in Lambertville, NJ closed in 1999. It later became an independent supermarket called Lombartio's, and is now a courthouse. It is very cool that it lasted all the way up until 1999, though. I would've loved to visit it when it was still open, being a huge Acme fan myself.

  7. Thomas - Thanks for that update. I think I've seen a photo of what looks like some conference rooms joined by a main hallway decorated with the old Acme signage lettering and a section of the porcelain panels with the word "super" as in super markets. I'd guess it's the interior of that building. Thanks again!

  8. Really cool. Altoona, PA got a new suburban-style ACME in 1959 when the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center opened. I believe that there was a downtown store, but I'm not sure how long it was kept after the new store opened.
    The building was later a Family Toy Warehouse, and is now a Save-A-Lot.