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.


  1. Sounds like Macy's after taking over Field's and otehr May department stores. They got rid of long time brands in favor of house brands that no one cared for. That is usually a pretty big mistake.

  2. Right. Companies buy each other out all of time in order to grow. The smart ones, in my opinion, respect and cater to the local tastes and traditions. The ones who don't usually end up paying a pretty hefty price for it.

  3. Hwhhwhhwh. Like Macy's right now? Sales at the old Marshall Fields are not as high as Macy's expected."

  4. My Mom and Grandmother both shopped at Food Giant in Inglewood, at Crenshaw and Imperial. This was back in the late fifties, early sixties. I remember it well. It's now a Superior warehouse type supermarket after being a Ralphs grocery for a number of years.

  5. Captain - The Inglewood area was a classic supermarket fan's dream. I need to post in more depth about Food Giant one of these days, an interesting chain that wasn't around all that long.

    Speaking of Inglewood, did you ever shop at the Alpha Beta on Arbor Vitae St.?

  6. Dave, we moved from Inglewood down to Capistrano Beach in 1960 when I was 5, so I'm surprised I remember the Food Giant. In fact, I'm amazed.

    I remember only two Inglewood grocery stores... the Food Giant already mentioned and the old barn-like Ralphs on Manchester near Crenshaw.

    Not bad for the memories of a 5 year old who is now 53.

  7. Captain - Pretty sharp memory, no doubt about it! The Alpha Beta I referred to didn't open until 1963,after you had already moved. I've seen pics of the Manchester and Crenshaw Ralphs, a nice 30's streamline design.

  8. The Food Giant in Oxnard, CA became a Smith's Food King in the early 70's.

  9. I lived in Inglewood from 1958 to 1970. I remember the Food Giant at the Crenshaw Imperial Shopping Plaza. Does anyone have a picture of this store?

    Thank you!