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.


  1. Hi there!

    Thanks for the mention and link on your site.

    Enjoyed your posts. I love nostalgia. Keep up the good work!

    Miss T

  2. Miss T,

    I loved your site. And thanks so much fer commentin'!

  3. Are there any photos of the JM Fields in Salem, NH around? Any former employees of the Salem,NH store out there? If so, let us know.

  4. Bill - Will be on the lookout for info on the Salem, NH store. When did you work there?

  5. I started with J.M. Fields in my junior year of High School in Largo, Florida. Moving to Tallahoochee after graduation, I went to work at the J.M. Fields. I, too, remember the fan room. It's amazing the amount of romance that can go on in a noisy room with a stiff breeze! Any way ... I was there when they put the padlock on the door, the very last day. (Very sad as I recall - a couple of the long-time employees actually had nervous breakdowns because of the store closing!) Several years later, I was hired by Kmart and worked in the same building AGAIN with many of the former JM Fields' folks! It was the glory days of the BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL! Great times, Super people, Fond memories, indeed!

  6. gbarnett- Thanks for sharing thsoe great memories! That's hilarious about the fan room, I don't doubt it a bit! And sad about the store closing. I've heard from a number of folks who worked at these classic stores, and the closings were very traumatic events, like saying goodbye to family almost. Glad you were able to reunite with some of them at Kmart.

  7. I worked at the Salem, NH sstore in the early 70's. It was a blast!!

  8. Anonymous - Thanks, and I don't know if you would remember Bill, who also worked there and commented above.