Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Stop & Shop's Sign of the Times

Here is a 1980’s photo of a great vintage Stop & Shop sign (with a clock, yet - always a welcome sight) from the 1957 Medford, Massachusetts store that was shown in a previous post and appears again in the second photo above. The sign photo comes to us through the courtesy of Larry Cultrera, a Medford native and host of a very entertaining and informative new website, Diner Hotline, which features great articles about and photos of that beloved American icon, the diner. Larry wrote a column on diners for many years for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s Journal before moving it to the wider internet audience this past October. Check his site out! Larry provides background on the photo as follows:

“I took the shot of the sign as I recall after Stop & Shop had moved to the other end of the parking lot (into a Super Stop & Shop) where Holiday Lanes (10 pin bowling alley) used to be, the sign remained by the old store for a while. Ironically as we speak, that newer Stop & Shop is inthe process of being replaced by an even newer one. The new one will be located next to the Stop & Shop gas station that sits at a right angle to the current store.

An old Ames Department Store was torn down (originally Zayre's). Zayre's and the Stop & Shop you have pictures of were the first 2 stores built in the Fellsway Shopping Plaza, Stop & Shop on the left end and Zayre's on the right. There were no buildings connecting them for a short time untilthey built the actual plaza that connected the 2 end buildings.”

One more note on the photo – in the background a “Medi-Mart” sign can be seen on a storefront with a logo style very similar to Stop & Shop’s late 60’s/70’s logo. Medi-Mart was a drugstore division of Stop & Shop that at its peak had 66 stores, most (not surprisingly) near Stop & Shop locations. Stop & Shop sold the division to Walgreens in 1986 in what at the time was Walgreens’ largest acquisition.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bradlees' Crushing Success

I’ve probably read close to 100 archived store “Grand Opening” articles over the past year in gathering information to research for this site. While generally interesting, the articles almost always tend to fall into one of two distinct categories. The first is the “just the facts” reporting style: “A large crowd was on hand for the opening of the new Safeway yesterday…” The second is the “over the top” style, the kind of article that had to have been fed to the newspaper by the chain’s PR department : “Customers will be able to buy Kroger’s Tenderay beef from these ultra-modern cooler cases. Only Kroger cares enough to provide top-quality aged Tenderay beef…”

In an effort to dig up background info on Bradlees, I came across a great “Grand Opening” article by Edward J. Farrell from the October 30, 1965 issue of the Berkshire Eagle entitled “Bradlees’ Opening Described as Crushing Success” that really stands out from the pack. The chain’s Coltsville (Pittsfield), Massachusetts store had opened the previous week. The article is written with a wit more commonly seen in political or arts commentary, and also highlights some of the fine points that can aptly describe many of the grocery store/discounter combinations that were then coming into popularity. Some lengthy excerpts for your enjoyment:

“Bradlees’ opening in Coltsville Tuesday morning was vaguely reminiscent of the World’s Fair closing earlier this month. Customers jammed into the 85,000 square feet of merchandise. They tugged, they yanked, shoved and they pushed.

It was a smasshing (sp) success. Police had to take up posts at the main entrances and limit the inflow of customers. Company executives were pressed into service at grocery checkout counters “bagging” groceries. The lines waiting to get through the checkout stations choked off all aisles. Most swarmed around bargain counters like football players after a fumbled ball.

Wilted Bradlees executives, easily identified by their wilted carnations, were ecstatic. Pittsfield’s welcome was “tremendous, fabulous and overwhelming.” But there was no joy in other parts of the city. Zayre and the Big N (the long-gone department store division of the long-gone Neisner’s variety chain) played to nearly vacant parking lots. You could cross North Street walking on your hands without danger. Clerks in other grocery stores spent the day dusting off the string beans and bananas.

The only consolation the day offered other merchants was the thought that the novelty would wear off, and everyone could settle down to good, clean competition.

The store was “shopped” thoroughly. Just about every north Street merchant prince was either present or represented by a court member. The parking lot, with space for 1,000 cars, overflowed into the meadow across the road. It was difficult to determine where the shoppers were coming from because all registration plates were from Massachusetts.”

“The Merrill Road store conforms in design to the 34 other Bradlee stores in New England. It has the self-service food counter on the north and the mass merchandising on the south side. It is all under one roof, but the two departments are carefully separated and are operated as individual entities.

The two sections differ in design to a small degree. The grocery, or Stop & Shop area, looks like a supermarket with long rows of fluorescent tubes mounted on the ceiling for light. On the department store side, the lighting is recessed and is much softer.

The distribution of various departments in the department store area conforms to the accepted pattern established some time ago by the pioneers of mass merchandising. The theory is that women go to the right and men go to the left upon entering a store, and they will probably meet somewhere near the hardware department. Bradlee allows for deviations from the pattern by locating bargain counters on a scattered-site basis hoping to snare unsuspecting shoppers with a batch of irresistible buys.

Tuesday’s opening-day crowd conformed pretty much to the accepted, but the more experienced mass merchandise shoppers located the loss-leaders early in the game and walked off with the treasures.
Bradlees has made one important concession to the mass merchandise customer. Many departments are equipped with their own cash registers. This means shoppers can approach the checkout counters equipped to go right through.

The new Bradlees store is no architectural masterpiece. (Dave’s comment: Waat?!) It looks as though it had been mass produced. There is an enormous amount of glass on the front. This is framed by a mixture of tapestry brick and some rust-color field stone. Bright splashes of color are provided by the Bradlee signs.”

“The concept of a Bradlees store – combining grocery and mass merchandising under one roof – was a natural development. It seemed that every time a supermarket opened in a shopping center, a mass merchandising outlet followed. It was only natural and cost-saving, then, to put the two operations under one roof.

With this pioneering venture behind them, Stop & Shop officials looked around for other fields to conquer. They startled the grocery industry two months ago by announcing Stop & Shop would no longer give trading stamps. Instead, the company said it was going to pass on the savings to customers. This announcement has left the female population in a quandary torn between its two greatest loves – trading stamps and a penny saved. Tune in tomorrow to find out if Stella Bella, girl shopper, takes her stamps or takes her pennies.”

Great stuff. And I can’t help but wonder what choice “Stella Bella” made. Maybe there was a follow-up article that I’ve missed.

Oh well. Anyway, the three stores pictured are from 1963-64, and “masterpieces” or not, in my opinion they reflect a nice improvement over the Zayre-like design of the earlier Bradlees stores, such as the one pictured in the previous post. The first photo is of a Bradlees Family Center, a food and general merchandise combo store from Poughkeepsie, New York which opened in 1963. This store was Stop & Shop’s first corporate venture into New York State. The second photo, from 1964 is of a Family Center in Fall River, Massachusetts, and the third photo is of a Bradlees Discount Foods, a stand-alone discount food store, which gave the company a second food store banner besides Stop & Shop. The first of these opened in 1963 in Hingham, MA. I’m not sure of this store’s location.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Big Bargains at Bradlees

At the start of the 1960’s, Stop & Shop was enjoying great success, with over 100 mostly large, modern supermarkets, adding between fifteen and twenty per year. The majority of their new locations were in shopping centers, and increasingly the company served as the prime developer of those centers, leasing space alongside their own stores to popular but less well-capitalized discount store chains, most frequently Zayre or J.M. Fields. The time had come to bring a discount operation of their own into the fold.

In February 1961, Stop & Shop entered the discounting world with the purchase of Bradlees, Inc., a six-store discount store chain founded in 1958 by Isadore Berson, Morris and Edward Kouzon. Thrown into the deal was a seven-store chain of children’s clothing stores called “Youth Centre”, founded in 1937 in Springfield, Massachusetts, also by Mr. Berson. At the time of the acquisition, both chains’ stores were concentrated in the Hartford, CT and Springfield, MA areas. Stop & Shop would dispose of the Youth Centre stores fairly quickly, but the Bradlees chain would prosper and grow under their aegis for many years, becoming one of the best-known retail institutions in the Northeast. The existing Bradlees management was left in place for the first year, and after that time, Stop & Shop opted to go pedal-to-the-metal in expanding the Bradlees operation. New stores were built from the ground up, and acquisitions were made, including the three-store Family Circle chain of New Jersey and the Orbit stores, another three store operation, of Massachusetts. By 1968, there would be nearly 50 Bradlees stores.

The above view is circa 1962, a Stop & Shop-developed shopping center in Northampton, Massachusetts called Kingsgate Plaza. In addition to the Bradlees and Stop & Shop, note the Grants store in between them. At the time the W.T. Grant Company, a venerable old variety chain, was in the midst of a furious (over)expansion nationwide, adding some 100 stores a year. The shopping center still exists and is still owned by Stop & Shop, with a Super Stop & Shop now standing in the former Bradlees location.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Navigating the Stop & Shop

Here are a couple of nice 1960 interior views of Stop & Shop’s Natick, Massachusetts store. In addition to the great use of color and the classy design scheme (standard for S & S at the time), they also show a wall-length store directory – something that was a very common feature of chain supermarkets from the 1940’s through the sixties. These directories are now very rarely seen, the valuable wall space now usually taken up by…uh…nothing. Granted, stores were smaller then and the full span of the wall would have been more easily visible because of this.

I look at this and think it would be nice to have them back – maybe an electronic plasma screen version, like the highly graphical, ever larger ones used for airport arrival/departure boards. C’mon, marketing people!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Stop & Shop's Showstopper

One of the great buzz-phrases of the 1960’s was “urban renewal”. If the term were coined today, one might think it meant restoring historic buildings for modern-day uses. Unfortunately, the phrase at the time essentially meant tearing blocks of vintage buildings down and building new stuff in their place. Thousands of wonderful old buildings all across America fell to this process from late 50’s through the early 70’s.

Occasionally some new gems arose, however, and the above-pictured Central Plaza of Lowell, Massachusetts, which opened in December 1961, is a fantastic example of this. Recognized as the “first completed commercial redevelopment project in the country” by the federal Urban Renewal Administration and widely acclaimed for its striking modern architecture, the project was spearheaded by Stop & Shop and its fellow Massachusetts corporate neighbor, Natick-based Zayre.

The photo above was taken shortly after the shopping center’s opening, and shows a nice view of the surrounding area as well. The triple-peaked store to the right of the Stop & Shop is the Zayre store, and if you click on the enlargement, the “Zayre” name will become a bit more visible below the left-most peak. The shopping center still exists, but both original anchors are long gone (Zayre, of course, is long gone in the broad sense as well), and an assortment of smaller stores have taken their place.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Stop & Shop, Bigger & Better

Stop & Shop was as aggressive as any major chain in replacing their small urban grocery stores with larger shopping center-based stores through the late fifties and early sixties. As the photos above show, they carried this out using an interesting variety of architectural designs, with an obvious focus on their large, block-lettered logotype.

They made a number of acquisitions during the period, most notably the Tedeschi chain in 1961, a six-store operation with stores located mostly in southeastern Massachusetts. Unlike Stop & Shop’s other acquisitions, management opted in this case to maintain the Tedeschi name and retain the existing management for those stores. Like a number of other chains, Stop & Stop also recognized the value of locating next to discount stores. Note the adjacent “J.M. Fields” sign in the first photo. Fields would be acquired by fellow supermarket chain Food Fair, in 1961, the same year in which Stop & Shop would themselves buy out the six-store Bradlees chain. By 1962, Stop & Shop was active in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

The photos above, top to bottom, show the following locations: Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1958, Hyde Park, MA also from ’58, Medford, MA from 1957, Manchester, Connecticut circa 1960, East Providence, RI from 1962, and Concord, New Hampshire from the same year.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Stop & Shop - The Postwar Years

By 1945, Stop & Shop had nearly 450 stores, most of which operated in the self-service format. In September of the following year, the company formally changed its name to “Stop & Shop, Inc.”. The photos above are typical of the company’s stores of the early postwar period, showing two urban locations – Springfield and Lynn, Massachusetts, and an early shopping center location in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. In the next decade, Stop & Shop would replace many of their smaller urban stores as part of a concentrated push into shopping centers, gaining the advantages of much larger footprints and ample free parking.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Early Days of Stop & Shop

Stop & Shop, a fixture on the New England retail landscape and long its dominant grocery chain, began humbly with a single store in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1914. Founded as Economy Grocery Stores by Julius Rabinovitz, the chain grew rapidly but soon began losing money. In 1920, Rabinovitz sold the business to his brother Joseph. Joseph’s son Sidney was a Harvard graduate with considerable ingenuity and marketing skills who had joined the business to assist his uncle in 1918, and soon began to implement policies that would ultimately turn the company around. (Sidney, along with his two brothers who would themselves join the company a few years later, shortened the family surname to Rabb.) In 1924, Economy became a public company and in 1930, at the ripe age of 29, Sidney Rabb was named chairman, a position he would hold for 55 years until his 1985 death.

A true innovator and visionary, Rabb implemented the low price concept long in Economy’s stores long before it became standard industry practice. The most significant innovation, however, came in 1935 with company’s introduction of the first (and Boston’s first, for that matter) self-service supermarket, called the “Stop & Shop Foodmart”, which was located on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a former factory building. The Stop & Shop name was born, although the company would formally be known as “Economy Grocery Stores” until 1946.

The photos above are in reverse chronological order, showing first a typical late 1930’s Stop & Shop (“hamburg”, scallops and clams – how New England can you get?), secondly the company’s first supermarket, as mentioned above, in a 1930’s photo, and lastly, one of the company’s earliest stores.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Safeway in Winter

Here’s a nice winter scene for early January – the brand new Leadville, Colorado Safeway, which opened in December 1971, is shown here in a photo taken soon afterward. There’s plentiful snow on the peaks – both the majestic Rocky Mountains in the background and the store’s own peak – the shallow, sloped roof that became one of Safeway’s stalwart designs in the early 1970’s. A simple design, but certainly very attractive in this context.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

…and welcome as we begin a new year of Pleasant Family Shopping, where we take a look at and discuss America’s great chain store history – old discount stores, supermarkets, and maybe even the occasional department or specialty store thrown in just for grins! Illustrated in artistic black-and-white, lifelike natural color and (wherever possible) super-saturated color, as in the photo above!

A young woman (dressed appropriately for grocery shopping, I might add) peruses the cereal aisle in this Weyerhaeuser packaging promotional photo from a 1960 McGraw Hill advertising text. I would date the actual photo itself back to 1957, based upon the cereal box designs and the expert guidance of Dan Goodsell’s Cereal Box Archive on his wildly entertaining Tick Tock Toys/Imaginary World website. And wow, 17 cents for a box of Corn Flakes!

They say that you can tell a lot about someone from what they buy, so let’s take a look, eh? Let’s see…Medosweet milk, which would locate this scene probably in the Washington state area…a Kellogg’s cereal “Variety Pak”…(Costs more this way, but hey – everyone’s happy)…umpteen packages of Jello…(There must’ve been a federal mandatory minimum Jello purchase in those days)…a Flintstones-sized steak…(There’ll be some hearty eatin’ tonight!)…a two-pound box of Nabisco Premium saltines…(Never seen one of those before, guess the fam must be into soup!)…eggs, celery and egg noodles…(Rounding out the food groups - sure was easier in those pre-pyramid days when there were only four)…a carton of Chesterfields…(Who needs filters? Besides, Perry Como smokes ‘em! On his show!)…a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon…(Obviously a family of taste)…and let’s not forget the box of Tide, “The Washday Miracle”…(Definitely among the most photogenic of consumer products). So there you have it – a thrifty homemaker eager to please her Pabst drinkin’, Chesterfield smokin’, Red-meat eatin’ family!