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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Food Fair's Finest Hours

A fantastic night view of a Food Fair supermarket, circa 1960, when the company cracked the ¾ of a billion dollar mark in sales and had more than 400 stores. To me, this store shines for a number of reasons, including the superb signage and metalwork and the “open ‘til” digital clock. All were hallmarks of Food Fair in the late fifties and sixties (in prior years the stores featured a neon clock face on the famous grooved pylons to inform shoppers of closing time). The pseudo-stained glass above the awning tops it off to great effect.

I don’t know about you, but if my local grocery store looked like this, I’d forget to buy stuff on purpose just so I'd have to make extra shopping trips!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Food Fair Phenomenon

For much of the 20th century, one of America’s most prominent supermarket chains was Philadelphia-based Food Fair Stores, Inc. A powerhouse in their primary Eastern Seaboard markets - Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, Eastern New York, Northern New Jersey and Baltimore, the Food Fair empire would become a significant market factor in Florida and eventually extend as far away as California.

Known as “Union Premier Food Stores, Inc.” until 1942 (although the stores were called “Food Fair” long before that), the company was founded by brothers Samuel and George Friedland with a single butcher shop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1921, starting a chain that would grow to over 20 grocery stores in their first decade.

Food Fair was one of the earliest chains to follow the “King Kullen” (a New York-based store acclaimed to have been the first supermarket) model, starting with a large, no-frills self-service market in Harrisburg in 1933. By the late thirties the entire chain consisted of exclusively supermarkets - as Time magazine put it, they “dumped all their small stores, plowed every dime into supers”. This approach put Food Fair in excellent competitive position vs. A&P, who were notoriously slow to discard their small store footprints and counter service.

The above photos are circa 1949, showing the exterior of the Collingswood, New Jersey store and a checkout view, location unknown. By this time the company had 113 stores. As a side note, Food Fair had opened its first store in the Florida market in June 1948, and a year and a half later had ten stores in greater Miami.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Vornado to the West

The old adage “Go West, young man” has applied for generations not only to people but to businesses as well. For many retail chains, once they achieved a measure of success in their home markets, becoming a coast-to-coast operation became their burning goal. Oftentimes, as history has shown time and time again, this has proven to be extremely difficult to achieve. By the mid 1960’s the Two Guys department store chain was a dominant force throughout its geographic market, and their parent company, Vornado, Inc., was ready to make their move.

In July 1967, Vornado announced its intention to merge with Southern California-based Food Giant Markets, Inc. Only ten years had passed since Food Giant’s founding, and by that time the chain had grown to include 69 supermarkets, 14 Unimart membership discount stores, and 14 Builders Emporium home centers. Food Giant also owned Meyenberg Milk Products and its subsidiary, Foster’s Freeze, a 200-plus store franchised ice cream shop operation. The existing Food Giant management remained in place, with their top two executives taking seats on Vornado’s board.

Almost immediately, there were problems. Profits from the new West Coast operation were less than expected, creating a drag on the entire company. Trading stamps were dropped in favor of a discount pricing approach, offending many loyal customers. Well known local brands were replaced with those from the Two Guys stores, which of course were largely unfamiliar to California customers. Steps were taken to correct the problem, including replacement of the Food Giant leadership with Vornado veterans from New Jersey. At the same time, changes were made to the Unimart stores, including dropping furniture lines (yet curiously adding carpet departments), and remerchandising along the lines of the Two Guys approach. New Unimart units constructed by Vornado would be of a much larger footprint, another similarity to Two Guys. Eventually, even the Unimart name would be discarded in favor of the name “Two Guys”.

Ultimately, these measures fell short, leading to a decision to sell the supermarkets to various buyers in the very early seventies. Vornado’s West Coast discount stores were sold to Fed-Mart in 1977.

The photos above are of a typical Food Giant and Unimart as they appeared at the time of the 1967 buyout.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two Guys Discount Stores '64 edition

The pictures above are exterior views from 1964, when Two Guys was certainly in the top echelon of America’s fastest growing discount department stores. The first two photos are of the chain’s standard 135,000 square foot prototype, the first being the Cherry Hill, New Jersey store in the Camden County Plaza shopping center (as mentioned in the previous post), the second a new store in Dover, New Jersey located on Route 46. The third was a 200,000 square foot monster of a store from Jersey City, N.J., which was located on Route 440 and Communipaw Avenue.

Two Guys/Vornado continued to grow and expand in the late 1960’s and early seventies to around 60 stores in the Eastern states, and they eventually added a number of Two Guys stores in California to augment Vornado’s purchase of the Food Giant/Unimart/Builders Emporium organization there. The peak of Vornado’s retail success, from a sales standpoint at least, came in 1975 when sales reached nearly a billion dollars. The decline was swift from that point, however, due in part to their ill-fated Western expansion, the general economic doldrums of the times and heated competition in their core Eastern markets from companies like Caldor and Kmart, who were extremely formidable at the time. In 1979, Vornado divested the 22 existing West Coast stores, and the following year 12 stores were leased to Montgomery Ward. In 1981, all but twelve of the remaining stores were closed. Then on February 9, 1982, this headline appeared in the New York Times – “Two Guys Chain Ended”. The final twelve stores were leased to Stop and Shop Companies, Inc. to be reopened as Bradlees stores.

Vornado has never looked back, achieving super-success over the last 25 years as a real estate investment trust, owner of a multitude of shopping centers and prestigious downtown office buildings including Chicago’s famous Merchandise Mart, which they purchased from the Kennedy family in the late 1990’s. In an interesting twist, Vornado recently reentered the retail arena, having purchased a 1/3 interest in Toys R Us in 2005.
For more Two Guys Information, click here, or search by other topics listed on the right side of the page.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Two Guys, Many Girls, No Pizza Place

Here are some more photos of Two Guys Department Stores from the early 1960’s, the era in which the chain experienced its most impressive growth. The first photo, from 1962, shows a great-looking New Jersey store exterior and sign. The full parking lot is a pretty good indicator that business must have been robust. The second through fifth photos show department views from various Two Guys locations, circa 1963-64. The last photo, from 1963, is of the snack bar in the brand-new (and number 20 in the chain) Hackensack, N.J. Two Guys - a 160,000 square foot store (including a 30,000 sq. ft. supermarket) with a whopping 86 (!) departments. Without a doubt, Two Guys stores were among the largest-sized discount stores of the era.

A milestone and sign of the future for the Vornado/Two Guys organization was reached in 1964 with the opening of the first shopping center to be completely developed by Vornado. Camden County Plaza, located off of Route 38 in Cherry Hill, N.J., featured over 350,000 square feet of retail space, including a Two Guys store, two supermarkets (I haven’t a clue what they were), a bank, and several other stores. Now primarily a real estate company, the Vornado Realty Trust owns over 160 shopping center and mall properties.
For more Two Guys Information, click here, or search by other topics listed on the right side of the page.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Tale of Two Guys

A familiar sight in Eastern Seaboard cities from the 1950’s through the very early eighties, the Two Guys discount store chain was founded in Harrison, New Jersey by a pair of brothers, Herbert and Sidney Hubschman, with a single 600 square foot store in 1946. The brothers soon established a reputation for selling radios, televisions and household appliances at razor-thin margins, much to the consternation of their competitors, one of whom dubbed them “Those two b@5#@rds from Harrison”.

Choosing to wear the putdown as a badge of honor, the Hubschmans adopted a sanitized version of it as their company name. The company was legally known, in fact, as “Two Guys From Harrison, Inc.” until 1959 when they acquired O.A. Sutton Corporation, a manufacturer of electric fans, air conditioners and heaters, who would become a major supplier to Two Guys and eventually to other chains as well. Sutton’s fan product line had the flashy-sounding name of “Vornado”, which became the name of the combined entity. The store moniker had been shortened by this time to “Two Guys”.

Through the 1950’s into the early sixties, the company built ever larger stores, averaging between 135,000 and 190,000 square feet by 1964. The stores initially had leased soft goods departments in addition to the core appliance and electronics offerings, along with a large supermarket area. By the mid-60’s, Vornado had taken over most of the leased departments and ran them as in-house operations. The company was early to join the trend towards building near controlled-access highways, standard practice for those that followed, right up to today’s Wal-Mart Supercenters.

In 1964, Vornado told a New York Times reporter that they would no longer include supermarket departments in new Two Guys stores (though in actuality they did on several more), citing poor profitability in food operations. Two Guys’ arch-competitor E.J. Korvette was plagued with a similar problem, and would ultimately decide to dump food stores altogether. Ironically, Vornado would purchase a supermarket chain on the West Coast, Food Giant, in 1967.

Sadly, by the end of 1964, both Hubschman brothers were no longer part of the “Two Guys” organization. Sidney resigned from the company in November, 1963, and Herbert, company chairman at the time, passed away in September of the following year.

The photos, showing a typical Two Guys store exterior and several department views are from 1962.
Many thanks to Steve, who identified this store's location as on Rt. 10 in East Hanover, NJ and sends the following memories:
After a closer examination of the "TWO GUYS" main entrance photo, I can say that the store was located in East Hanover, NJ.

I remember shopping there many times as a kid and that to the right of the store was the attached liquor store. (You will see blue panels about waist high where the car is parked in front, with a man standing by an open car door.) Over the doors window panels read "BAR" "BEER" "SODA". That’s where my Dad would take me to buy Brookdale soda.

To the left of the main entrance there is another length of blue panels, where the shopping carts where kept. Notice there are automatic side doors as in the front. The liquor store did not have the automation doors.

The interior photos look to be from the same store as I remember.

For a short time my Dad used to work at the liquor store part time. The store had a separate entrance from the Main Store. I don't believe it was affiliated with "TWO GUYS" in any way.
Your picture of the Grand Union Meat Dept. looks identical to the Two Guys Meat Dept. I can remember those diagonal 2 way mirrors! They also use to slide open for the butchers to load the display shelves below.
One thing not mentioned is that TWO GUYS had a Lumber Dept. building located on the highway before the main store. The building had a fire back the early-mid 70's and a new one was built next to the main store. The original Lumber Dept. store was gutted and made into a Goodyear Tire Center. Too bad though the building was demolished 2 months ago and I don't know what's being built now.The buildings are still there along with Vornado Warehousing in the back.
For more Two Guys Information, click here, or search by other topics listed on the right side of the page.

Friday, October 5, 2007

An Ideal Selection

Here’s a nice display of Acme Markets products, circa 1965/6 - an era when many supermarkets were just beginning to recognize the revenue potential of house brands and thus began sprucing them up to maximize sales. The “eye” logo on the packaging of some of these items preceded the stores’ new image (as featured in the previous post) by a couple of years. I notice that some of the products are labeled under their main brand “Ideal” but also under the “Farmdale” or "Glenside" brands, leading me to wonder if Acme sold under the other brands on a wholesale basis or through their Rea and Derick Rexall stores. Also, check out the "One Whole Chicken" in a can on the top shelf. Mmm!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Acme's Swingin' Sixties Look

Acme’s stores of the nineteen-sixties could scarcely have looked more different from those of the previous decade. In 1960, a new design was implemented that featured a peaked roof with a full fa├žade of glass. The “Acme” script was discarded in favor of a block-lettered logo at first. After a year or so, a new Acme logo (that to me, at least, still looks modern) with a unique “eye” shape was introduced, completing the image that is still well-remembered today. Also, the design was modified somewhat - the gable portion of the facades was now filled in with opaque panels instead of glass and small sections of stone veneer appeared on the sides. The first photo, featuring the initial “new look”, shows the Newtown Square, PA Acme, a store that was built around 1960, after a 1967 expansion added a side wing. The second photo features the King of Prussia, PA store from 1962, the third the Upper Darby, PA store which opened in August of 1963, and the fourth the Pottstown, PA store (with an Acme-owned Rea and Derick Rexall store barely visible in the distance) which opened in March, 1964.

In 1962, American Stores Company changed its corporate name to Acme Markets, Inc. In retrospect, this move is somewhat surprising in light of the fact that they had just completed the acquisition of a second major banner, and in the next few years would add several other businesses to their corporate family. The name would finally revert back to American Stores in 1974. This “second major banner”, of course, was Southern California’s Alpha Beta Food Markets, which became part of Acme on January 16, 1961, and instantly established Acme on the West Coast with the major presence of a well-respected supermarket brand. Acme would make substantial investments in Alpha Beta’s growth in the coming years, including new and remodeled stores and a massive new distribution and office complex in La Habra, California. Under Acme, Alpha Beta would enter the Bay Area market with its first store in 1967.

The 1960’s also saw Acme’s diversification into the restaurant and pharmacy arenas in both their Eastern and Western regions. The first Alphy’s coffee shops were opened in the SoCal area around 1966 or so. The Alphy’s restaurants (similar in concept to a Denny’s or Sambo’s) were typically located near Alpha Beta store locations in shopping center outparcels. In 1962, the company opened the first four of their Hy-Lo Drug Stores, and would ultimately place a few of these in former Alpha Beta locations. Only a relative handful of Hy-Lo’s were ever opened. In the East, Acme purchased the 47-unit Rea and Derick, a Rexall Drug franchisee, in September 1964. Also, in 1968, Acme obtained franchise rights from Rocky Mount, NC-based Hardee’s Food Systems to operate Hardee’s restaurants in their home Philadelphia region. The Alphy’s and Hy-Lo operations were managed from the Alpha Beta hub in La Habra, while the other businesses, of course, reported to the Philly corporate offices.