Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmastime 1966, and here’s one more look at the Grand Union complex in East Paterson, New Jersey’s Elmwood Shopping Center. A cold night, to be sure, but the spirit of Christmas in the air and the glow of neon help to warm things up. The Grand Way store is in place now, welcoming shoppers for its first Christmas season. A tall, elegant Christmas tree stands near the store’s entrance.

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has visited this site since I launched it back in July. Whether you stop in once in a while to see what’s new, just found it by chance, or make it a regular part of your surfing day, it’s greatly appreciated. I especially want to thank those who’ve commented, and those who have sent me such kind emails, full of wonderful memories of your own. I’m overwhelmed by them, and it definitely makes the time and effort worthwhile.

Like many of you, I will be traveling over the coming week, so this is likely the last post until the New Year. May the True Joy of Christmas be yours, may your holidays be great and spent with family and friends, and may you each have a wonderful and healthy New Year!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Safeway's Season's Greetings

An 80-foot tall sequoia becomes a majestic Christmas tree in this 1965 Lake Oswego, Oregon view. Safeway endeared itself to the local community by sparing the tree when constructing their new marina-style store. When they subsequently sprung for annual lighting of the tree and appearances by Santa Claus, who would have shopped anywhere else?

Thanks to "Sputnikmoss" of the Portland Area Mid-Century Modern League for informing us that both the store and the tree still exist, at 401 A Avenue, Lake Oswego, Oregon. And they still feature the annual tree lighting celebration with Santa Claus!

Sears - Wish Book Wonderland

Getting super close to Christmas, so let’s take a very quick look at Sears, a veritable Warehouse of Christmas Dreams for generations of Americans. This particular store was located at the Logan Square shopping center in Norristown, Pennsylvania, not far from Philly. It was brand new and all decked out for Christmas at the time this photo was taken in 1966. The building still stands (with the three flagpoles, yet!) in recent photos, but is no longer a Sears.

Speaking of the Wish Book, here’s a great website that features vintage department store Christmas catalogs – Sears, Penneys, Wards and more – that a group of folks have painstakingly scanned in full. It’s a real treat!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Elmwood Shopping Center, 1952

Here’s an aerial view, from 1952, of the Elmwood Shopping Center - home of Grand Union’ s headquarters and flagship store. The second largest retail tenant in the center was Neisner’s, a major variety store chain at the time, and probably the only one who didn’t have a set of initials before its name, unlike its competitors – F.W. Woolworth, W.T. Grant, S.S. Kresge, J.J. Newberry, G.C. Murphy…

The parking lot to the left of the shopping center at the edge of the photo would become the future location of the Grand Way store which opened, as previously mentioned, in 1966.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

On Their Toes at the Grand Union

Without a doubt, the employees of this particular Grand Union were “on their toes” on a regular basis, due in no small measure to the fact that Grand Union’s corporate honchos held court directly above their store. The photos above, from 1952, show the company’s brand-spanking new corporate offices which opened in November 1951 (the store opened the following April) in the Elmwood Shopping Center at 180 Broadway in East Paterson, New Jersey.

In 1950, Grand Union announced their intention to vacate their longtime offices at 50 Church Street in Manhattan and move to Bergen County, NJ, a bustling, densely populated suburban area located across the river from New York. Many American companies from the 50’s through the 70’s forsook their downtown offices (A&P would finally move from their NYC offices to Montvale, NJ nearly 25 years later) for sprawling, beautifully landscaped suburban campuses, but a shopping center? This was something else again, and it garnered Grand Union a fair amount of favorable publicity in such publications as the New York Herald-Tribune, Fortune, Time and Architectural Forum, from which the above photos were taken. In both perception and reality, the move allowed Grand Union to “get close” to their customers.

The Grand Union store at this location was understandably used as a proving ground for the chain, and one of the obvious manifestations of this was in the area of store layout, as clearly shown in the store’s “planogram” (to use a modern-day term) shown in the last photo. The Elmwood store layout was aptly likened in a June 1955 Fortune magazine article to a wagon wheel, with “numerous aisles that fan out as do the spokes of a wheel”. A striking departure from standard supermarket aisle design, this unconventional design was championed by Grand Union president Lansing Shield (lionized in previous posts) with a view toward using it in more of the chain’s stores.

It’s interesting to ponder why this unique layout ultimately failed to win favor over the age-old parallel aisle design that still predominates in the supermarket business. Perhaps customers were consistently confused by the layout or over time found it tiresome. Maybe older shoppers had difficulty navigating the different departments. I’m fairly certain that cost played a part, with extra travel time required to restock the shelves. Another probable factor would have been the need to maximize shelf space as the number of items the average grocery store stocked absolutely skyrocketed in the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s.

In the summer of 1956, the flagship store was damaged by fire, forcing it to close for three months. A temporary store was set up in a circus-style tent on the parking lot. A slightly expanded version of the store reopened, with the glassed-in vestibule extended toward the direction of the parking lot. In 1966, a two-story, 100,000 square foot Grand Way department store was built at the opposite end of the shopping center.

On a recent business trip to New Jersey, I decided one evening to swing by the ol’ Elmwood in hopes of taking a close look at the store and HQ, curious to see who now inhabited it. To my surprise, the shopping center was still there, but the Grand Union headquarters building and store were completely gone! The headquarters portion was torn down and replaced with single story stores and a standard-issue Walgreens now stands where the GU store was in the foreground of the first photo. Time most certainly does march on. The Grand Way store is fairly intact from an exterior standpoint and is now a (Big)Kmart.

And by the way, if you look for East Paterson, New Jersey on a current map, you won’t find it. In 1973, the town’s name was changed to Elmwood Park.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Grand Union, Independent Innovator

Grand Union held its own through the Depression years and made slow but steady progress through World War II. By the war’s end, however, the company faced a new challenge, perhaps less from external forces than from a growing friction between company president J. Spencer Weed and Lansing P. Shield, vice-president and number two man in the company. Weed was extremely conservative in his approach, and was dead-set against joining the industry trends toward building larger, suburban stores and self-service. Over the years, Shield would emerge as Weed’s polar opposite, full of energy and ideas for transforming and expanding the (then fairly young) supermarket concept and eager to push Grand Union out onto the industry’s leading edge.

The relationship between Weed and Shield (I know, together the names sound like a lawn care product, don’t they?) reached a final breach in mid-1946 when Weed entered into negotiations with the American Stores Company (parent of Acme Markets) to sell Grand Union out. American was multiples larger than Grand Union, with 1,964 stores at the end of 1945 vs. Grand Union’s 320 stores. The merger deal was officially announced in the New York Times on October 8, 1946.

Aghast at the prospect of having spent 22 years in building up Grand Union only to hand its future over to another firm, Shield vigorously opposed the merger. Ultimately, enough key stockholders and directors agreed with Shield that the deal was called off, as announced in the Times on November 5th. Weed stepped down from Grand Union’s presidency immediately, and within a year would retire from the board of directors as well, leaving Shield in full control of the company.

Shield moved quickly to convert the Grand Union stores to self-service and to ramp up the company’s building program. In the next ten years, he would spearhead the development of new concepts in store layout, breaking away from the traditional “aisle format” into a sort of departmentalized “island” concept. Grand Union was also an early leader in the use of color in their stores, carefully selecting hues for each area to maximize sales appeal.

Not only was Shield a grocery industry innovator, he was an inventor as well. The Food-O-Mat, as Fortune magazine called it, was Shield’s “personal, patented invention”, and was first used to handle canned goods. The key feature of the Food-O-Mat was its gravity fed design, with shelves that sloped downward toward the customer aisle, while stockers would replenish cans from a hidden back aisle, behind the wall. One advantage of this design was that restocking could take place during a regular shift as opposed to overnight, or to getting in the way of customers while they shopped. The Food-O-Mat became so successful that it was soon adapted for a number of other uses, including cosmetics. Grand Union eventually set up a subsidiary to manufacture and market the Food-O-Mat to other chains (both food and non-food), including Macy’s, Kroger and even direct competitors like spurned suitor Acme, among many others.

The first photo is of the Glens Falls, NY store exterior from 1947. The second, from the same year, shows the Food-O-Mat in the Monroe, NY store. The third and fourth photos show a wider store view and a close up of the “Meateria” (definitely my nominee for scariest department name ever) from unidentified stores in 1948 and 1949. Just for fun, in a tip of the hat to Grand Union’s Route Division, the last photo shows a route truck and salesman’s car from the Syracuse, NY branch in 1947.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tales of the Grand Union

A familiar face to grocery shoppers throughout the Northeast states (and even more so to those Northeasterners who vacationed in Florida), the late, great Grand Union Company also held the distinction of being one of America’s oldest grocery chains, second only to The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company.

The company was founded in Scranton, PA in 1872 (thirteen years after A&P) by Cyrus D. Jones, who would soon be joined by his two brothers to form the Jones Brothers Tea Company, the predecessor to Grand Union. To augment the sales of their lone store, Jones initiated home delivery service to customers in the area, planting the seeds of what would become Grand Union’s “Route Division”, an operation that would continue into the 1950’s. The “Grand Union” name was adopted in the last years of the 19th century for a subsidiary of Jones called the Grand Union Tea Company.

The chain had grown to 200 stores and 500 horse-and-buggy equipped route salesmen by its 40th anniversary in 1912. The corporate offices were set up in New York. By the early 20’s, however, things began to falter, with falling profits on an unwieldy assortment of stores, routes and unnecessary manufacturing operations.

Help was on the way in the form of two former A&P managers recruited in 1924 – J. Spencer Weed as President and 28-year old whiz kid Lansing P. Shield as Controller. Within four years, the team had streamlined the company, sold off the non-core (as we refer to it in current business-speak) manufacturing plants, and led the company back to profitability. In 1928, the Jones family sold out their ownership stake and the entire company was officially rechartered as the Grand Union Tea Company.

The photos above (featuring the fabulous "Food-O-Mat", an L.P. Shield invention) are from 1946.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

An Early Target, 1966

The hard Northern winter shows on the faces of these Target shoppers in this 1966 photo. The Target story began in 1962 when the Dayton Company, a venerable 60-year old Minneapolis-based department store chain, decided to capitalize on the discounting trend by setting up its own discount division. At the time, the company had five full line Dayton’s department stores in Minnesota, including their downtown Minneapolis flagship, plus Fantle’s department store in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which Dayton had bought out in 1954. By 1962, they had also developed some notable shopping center properties, including the well-known Southdale Shopping Center in Edina and the more recent Brookdale Shopping Center in Brooklyn Center, both Twin Cities suburbs.

The early years of Target appear in retrospect to be marked by fairly slow, cautious growth, especially when compared with the chain’s remarkable expansion in the last few decades. Starting with four stores in 1962 – Duluth, Roseville, Crystal and St. Louis Park, they added a fifth Minnesota store in Bloomington in 1965. The first two stores outside of Dayton’s home state were opened in Denver in 1966.

I think it’s safe to say that during those early years (and for some time afterward) Dayton hadn’t the slightest hint that Target would ultimately become the company’s bread and butter, to say nothing of its future profound influence on mass retailing in general. Remarkably, for many years the Target operation would officially be known within Dayton (and later Dayton-Hudson) as the “Low-Margin Division”, I kid you not. Definitely this was an unglamorous name for a chain that would later become synonymous with affordable chic.

Now, of course, the entire company is known as Target Corporation. The Dayton’s stores (and their erstwhile stepsiblings Hudson’s and Marshall Field’s) were sold off to The May Company a few years back, and then to Federated, where the familiar Macy’s logo with its famous red star now reigns on the former D-H stores.

The checkstands in this photo sport the original Target logo. A year later, in 1967, Target would revamp its logo with thicker rings and a filled-in bullseye, creating an enduring retail icon.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

New Looks for 7-Eleven in '67

The first four of these photos date from 1967, by which time 7-Eleven was beginning to vary their store appearance. The open front design was beginning to be phased out, and many of the existing open front stores underwent renovation to a more conventional window and door arrangement. This was ostensibly to allow the efficient use of newly-added air-conditioning units, but one could assume it was done to address security concerns as well.

Most of the new designs included some form of mansard roof with architectural shingles. Spanish tile was used to nice effect on selected Western and Florida area stores, and some even had cedar shake roofs. A very attractive colonial motif (complete with a rooftop cupola), pictured in the third photo, was implemented in a number of the company’s Eastern and Midwest markets, including Chicago.

I remember the colonial design well, and in at least one instance that I know of, Southland applied it to an entire shopping center, called (appropriately enough) "The Southland Center", which opened in late 1967 on Algonquin Road near the Wilke Road intersection in Rolling Meadows , a northwest suburb of Chicago. This center, in addition to having a 7-Eleven, housed a snack shop (which I remember much more than that particular 7-Eleven), a beauty shop, barber shop, and a number of other small stores. It had a two-story section in the middle, where Southland’s Chicago-area regional offices were housed. It still stands, but sadly the colonial fa├žade has been refaced with stucco (an all-too-common fate of 50’s and 60’s era shopping centers) in a style I like to call “yecch modern”. Hilariously, the cupola still exists as before. Southland, the 7-Eleven and all of their original tenants, like Elvis, have long since “left the building”.

The last photo is from 1968 and shows a sign with the company’s brand new logo, no doubt a very familiar sight to all because it's the same one in use today. Behind the sign is a Southland –owned “Midwest Farms” dairy truck, sporting the new image that Southland rolled out for all of its dairy divisions that year.
Update 7/17/10 - Thanks to AB for identifying the location of the Spanish-tiled store in the second photo - still operating as a 7-Eleven at the corner of Las Olas Boulevard and 16th Street in Fort Lauderdale, Florida!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sixties, Slurpees and the Sev

The 1960’s saw two major developments in the history of 7-Eleven and its parent, the Southland Corporation. The first was a continuation of the company’s rapid geographical expansion, which would result in 7-Eleven becoming a virtual nationwide presence by the end of the decade. The second was the 1967 introduction of the company’s signature product, the Slurpee.

In March 1964, Southland made what would probably be its most important single acquisition, the 100-store Speedee Mart chain, with stores in all of the key markets in California. With this purchase, Southland not only picked up a solidly managed operation in the country’s most dynamic markets, it gained a crucial foothold in the field of franchising. Speedee Mart was a successful franchise-based operation. In the coming years, franchising would serve as rocket fuel for Southland’s expansion plans. For a couple of years after buying out Speedee Mart, Southland would maintain the Speedee Mart name, augmented with 7-Eleven’s logo.

7-Eleven entered the Chicago market in 1965, and within two years had 14 stores in the area. The following year, they acquired the 86-store handy-Pantry chain in Georgia and Tennessee, and in 1968 they bought out Gristede’s, an upscale chain of 115 small grocery stores in the metro New York area. Not long afterward, the company would add the New England, Detroit and Buffalo markets as well. Southland also bought out a number of prominent local dairies in the 60’s as well, both to supply dairy products to the 7-Eleven stores and in some cases, home delivery. These dairies included Wanzer’s in Chicago, Adohr Farms in California, Midwest Farms (multiple Midwest locations), Velda Farms in Florida and Embassy Dairies in DC.

Look carefully at the first photo, which dates from 1965, and you’ll see that the drinks the kids are enjoying are in fact not Slurpees but Icees, an independently owned frozen drink that’s been around since 1959 (and until very recently was sold in cups of the exact same design as those pictured). In 1965, Southland launched a test in three stores utilizing a new and fairly expensive piece of equipment, the Mitchell frozen drink machine. The test far surpassed the company’s expectations, and plans were quickly laid in place to install machines in 100 more stores, followed by the green light to implement them chain-wide in all of the chain’s stores. It was determined that a slightly different process (using the Taylor frozen machines) and an exclusive brand name was needed to firmly link the new frozen drinks with 7-Eleven in consumers’ minds, and thus the Slurpee was born (One might assume that from that point forward, Icees were forevermore banned from 7-Eleven premises, but in fact the Icee machines were used in a number of their stores for several more years).
A huge success, the Slurpee proved that if a company can effectively appeal to the kids’ market, then more often than not their parents are locked in as well. McDonald’s would realize this on an even larger scale with introduction of the “Happy Meal” twelve years later. Another benefit 7-Eleven gained from the Slurpee was a multitude of packaging and promotional possibilities (which were also areas McDonald’s would later excel in with the Happy Meal), mostly revolving around collectors’ cup designs, which my friends and I treated like gold - Baseball Tradin’ Cups, Superhero Tradin’ Cups, Star Wars and even Rock Group Tradin’ Cups (my brother had a J. Geils Band tradin’ cup, which looked pretty nasty after a year of dishwashing, trust me). For a couple of years we lived close to a 7-Eleven in Arlington Heights, IL where my brother and I stopped in on a near-daily basis.

In later years, 7-Eleven would tilt the scales back toward more adult tastes by heavily promoting a new line of gourmet coffee. A few years ago, my childhood 7-Eleven experience was repeated in a strange way. I was working with a customer in Long Island, New York, for which I had to fly in for meetings every few months over the course of a year. We would start the meetings about 8am. Invariably, about an hour into the meeting, regardless of the importance of the topic being discussed or who else was there, the main guy would stand up and say “This coffee’s crap, let’s go to the Sev”. Of course, we would all load up into his car and drive the few blocks to the friendly local 7-Eleven (I’ve called them “The Sev” ever since) where I admit the coffee wasn’t bad at all. I didn’t save the cups this time, however.

The second photo is an interior from 1964, the third an exterior from the following year.