Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kmart...Eat Here and Get Gas!

You know, there’s really nothing like a Double K Burger when you’re craving that great Kmart taste! Mmmmmmm!

Yes, my friends, there really was such a thing as a “Kmart Chef”. After five years of outstanding growth, Kresge began to explore ways to leverage the success of Kmart. Though virtually all Kmarts had in-store snack bars and/or concession stands, Kresge figured that a free-standing fast food restaurant, complete with the Kmart brand name and located next to the main store, would be an effective way to snare those customers who managed to escape the store with their lunch or dinner dollars still in pocket. It was also assumed that the highly visible locations of the Kmarts – typically on high-traffic streets or adjacent to highways - would draw an ample number of customers as well. The first Kmart Chef, pictured above, was opened in October, 1967 next to the Pontiac, Michigan Kmart. Plans were announced for 10 more to open in 1968.

The stores were somewhat of a hybrid between a McDonald’s-type fast food restaurant and a cafeteria. Customers walked up to a counter (ala McDonald’s) but were given a tray to push along a stainless-steel cafeteria line. The Kmart Chefs did have interior seating, something that McDonald’s was in the process of a frenetic transition to as they replaced their famous red and white-striped walk-up drive-ins with sit-down restaurants. The initial “limited, high-turnover menu”, as Kresge described it, consisted of “hamburgers, cheeseburgers, frankfurters, fish sandwiches (gotta be ready for Lent), French fried potatoes, fried apple turnovers, assorted carbonated and fruit drinks, coffee, hot chocolate and milk”. As the outdoor sign said, hamburgers were initially 18 cents. That same year, in a controversial but fiscally necessary move, McDonald’s finally raised the price of their burgers from their traditional 15 cents to 18 cents as well.

As it turned out, only a small number of Kmart Chefs were ever opened, with the 10th store, an Albuquerque, New Mexico unit, not even opening until 1971. At that time, there were Kmart Chefs in Pontiac, Clemens and Warren MI, Erie PA, Moline IL, Wichita KS, Kansas City MO, Houston and Lubbock, TX. It was truly a random strategy, to put it charitably. The Kmart Chefs were closed down in 1974.

More successful in the long run were the Kmart gas stations. Many Kmarts had auto centers, generally free-standing units, and the addition of a Kmart-branded gas station was first tried in April, 1967 in the parking lot of an Atlanta Kmart. Pictured above is the original gas station (Check out the 100 octane gas - that stuff would probably be eight bucks a gallon now!). Two more Kmart gas stations were opened in the Metro Atlanta area the following January, beginning a strategy that Kmart has employed on and off ever since.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Kmart's Mid-Sixties Ascent

In contrast to its discount image, in the mid-sixties at least, the opening of a new Kmart could arguably be considered a town status symbol. Adding an average 35 stores per year at the time, Kresge would step up its pace even more as that tumultuous decade rolled on, tallying nearly 60 new Kmarts a year by 1970. Development was particularly heavy in the southern and western states, where Kresge had virtually no presence prior to 1960. The company continued to open a small number of new Kresge stores (only 2 in 1965, for example), but by then the writing was clearly on the wall, and all significant resources were plowed into the Kmart program. Surprisingly, a number of the Jupiter stores (a format that was developed to “ride out” the leases of fading Kresge stores) did well, and Kresge found itself in the unexpected position of signing new leases for those locations. Kresge also lost its founder during this period. Sebastian Spering Kresge passed away at the ripe old age of 99 in October 1966, having lived to see Kmart's initial triumphs.

During 1965, Kresge bought out two of Kmart’s original lessees – Holly Stores, Inc., the operator of Kmart’s womens’ and girls’ clothing departments, and Dunham Stores Corporation, who ran the sporting goods departments. A few years later, Kresge would combine the sporting goods and automotive supplies groups into a wholly-owned subsidiary called Kmart Enterprises.

As several of the photos show, Kmart heavily promoted their own private label goods, and many of them became respectable sellers. I vividly remember the first branded Kmart item I owned, a set of 10 (or so) magic markers (the package referred to them as “Water Colors”) in the familiar teal and gold Kmart packaging. My brother and I treated them like prized possessions. That was until we kept leaving the caps off, and one by one they dried out…

The first photo, from 1964, shows the majestic Rocky Mountains looming behind a Denver Kmart (with lots of room to expand!), with a nice snow cover over all. Following are five interior views from 1966, showing a service desk, always front and center in Kmart stores, a toothpaste display (lab tested!), a display of Mattel “Cheerful Tearful” dolls, and one of telescopes (must’ve been a popular featured item in discount stores back then) and lastly a typical supermarket aisle. Below is a nifty 1964 Kmart ad heralding the second Fresno, California store. This ad is interesting in that it shows the geographic distribution of the earliest Kmarts, although the stores are listed in alphabetical order by city, not chronological order.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

What's the Frequency, Kmart?

The transformation that the Kresge company underwent with the introduction of Kmart was dramatic, to put it very mildly. Among the most impressive aspects were the sheer speed and scale of the rollout. Once the final decision was made to push forward with Kmart, Kresge president Harry Cunningham gave a mandate to Kresge’s real estate department that at least 60 leases be secured for new Kmart sites to accommodate the planned rapid-fire growth. As mentioned, there were 18 Kmarts in operation at the end of 1962. 35 would be added in 1963, 35 more in 1964, and 34 more in 1965. By the end of the decade, there would be over 270 Kmarts in all regions of the United States, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico.

Aside from four small-footprint stores that were used in part for development purposes (Kresge called them “bantam” K-marts), the average square footage of the earliest Kmarts was 60,000, growing to 75,000 within a couple of years and to over 90,000 square feet by the end of the 60’s. In the following decade, they would consistently exceed 120,000 square feet.

The simple, rectangular, box-like design of the Kmart stores was a definite aid in the speed at which the stores opened, with average construction time at a brief six months per store. Another key factor was Kresge’s insistence on building free-standing stores in most cases, thereby avoiding frustrating (and costly) delays at the hands of shopping center developers. Kmarts were often located near other stores, but were rarely connected to them.

Kresge sought to open at least two (often more) stores in quick succession within a given market in order to maximize advertising dollars. The first major market, for obvious reasons, was the Detroit metro area, Kresge’s hometown, where seven Kmarts were operating within the first two years. Atlanta, Denver, Knoxville, Fresno and Charlotte were among the other early multiple-store markets.

The store carried a full line of merchandise, including clothes, kitchen items, home improvement and auto accessories , sporting goods, a camera department (remember the “Focal” brand?), electronics (or “Television and Hi-Fi” as such departments were then commonly called), jewelry, and in many cases, a full-line supermarket. A number of the departments were leased, among them sporting goods, cameras and jewelry.

Most notably the supermarkets were leased, from a number of different operators. The early Kmart supermarket lessees were moderate-sized grocery firms, including Borman Food Stores, Inc., the first operator of the some of the K-mart supermarkets in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. Even small family-owned grocers got in on some of the action. When the Benton Harbor, Michigan Kmart opened in 1963, for example, the supermarket portion was operated by John Sassano, an independent grocer based in Hobart, Indiana. The largest operator of Kmart supermarkets would be Detroit-based Allied Supermarkets, who signed on with the company in June 1964. Allied up to that point had operated food stores in the Midwest, Texas and Oklahoma under the names Wrigley and Humpty Dumpty, among others. They would eventually operate grocery units in a great many Kmart stores all over the country well into the 1970’s. The supermarket areas averaged 20-24,000 square feet and were all thoroughly branded “Kmart”, regardless of the operator. There even was a line of private label items, including Kmart potato chips!

The stores were big, fairly colorful, and most importantly featured discount prices across the board. And then there were the “special buys” (later called “bluelight” specials) to drive high-volume sales on select items. Kmart’s selling prices were set at Kresge headquarters in Detroit, and interestingly, the individual Kmart store managers were given the authority to lower prices to beat local competition, but they were forbidden to raise them. “Charge It!” banners abounded.
Customers showed up en masse, and most of them instantly became regulars. A retailing legend was born.

The photos, dating from late 1962/early 1963, show some of the earliest Detroit area Kmarts, including an exterior view (the Kmart logo would be tweaked slightly on future stores), and views of various departments. The woman shopping in the supermarket area resembles Barbara Billingsley, TV’s Mrs. Cleaver. She’s shopping the detergent aisle, and if you look carefully you can see some boxes of Tide, that most photogenic of consumer products, to her lower right. There's a mezzanined furniture area visible behind the camera department, a feature of a number of early stores. I find the last photo very touching, because it seems to feature a real-life mother and daughter, not professional models. The mom looks like the kind who would have had fresh cookies baking in the oven when you showed up home from school.

Monday, April 21, 2008

S.S. Kresge's Pre-K Days

Before discount stores popped up all across America, there were the variety stores. For decades, Middle America shopped at these stores for their basic needs – housewares and kitchen items, linens, basic clothing, shoes, school supplies, toys and so on. Most of the larger variety chains had their origin in the decades immediately preceding or following the beginning of the 20th century. They were fittingly known as “5 and 10 cent stores” in the early days, for the simple reason that most products sold for one of those two price points. Even as late as the early sixties, when the chains had long since begun carrying higher priced items, they were still popularly referred to as “dime stores”. Until well into the 1940’s, they were almost exclusively found in downtown locations, with shopping center locations slowly becoming part of the mix from that point on. Many variety stores had snack bars or luncheonettes. The chains’ stores had a similar look, especially from the exterior, with the signage style for a number of them virtually the same (until the early 1950’s at least)– a narrow, red sign across the full width of the storefront, with gold or silver serif lettering. Even many of the store names followed a recognizable pattern – F.W. Woolworth, J.J. Newberry, W.T. Grant, S.H. Kress, G.C. Murphy and…. S.S. Kresge.

S.S. Kresge Company, based in Detroit and officially founded in 1911 by Sebastian Spering Kresge, was the number three variety chain in the US at the dawn of the sixties, behind F.W. Woolworth and W.T. Grant. At the end of 1960, Kresge had 759 variety stores, mostly located in the Midwest and Eastern states. The company’s first stores in California wouldn’t even open until 1961, and their presence in the growing Southern states at this point was minimal at best. By all appearances, Kresge was a staid, conservative, regional retailer, expanding at a relatively steady, deliberate pace.

Behind the scenes, however, an exciting development was taking place at Kresge. Faced with the same challenges that were affecting the variety store category as a whole – declining profitability, increased labor costs, stores that were becoming too old, too small and too urban, and impacted by the success of upstart discounters such as E.J. Korvette, Kresge embarked on a plan to scope out the discount industry for themselves.

In 1957, Harry B. Cunningham, the energetic 50-year old head of sales for Kresge embarked on a new mission, one that would take him all over the country over the next two years. Cunningham was placed in charge of a project to explore the discount industry up close, visiting stores, taking note of what worked and what didn’t with an eye toward Kresge’s own entrance into the discount store business. Cunningham liked the potential he saw, and the initial plans and strategies began to come together. In March 1961, with Cunningham now at the helm of the company, the decision was made to go full steam ahead with “Kmart”, Kresge’s discount store concept.

To coincide with this, the decision was made to accelerate closing of many of the older, outmoded Kresge stores. In a number of cases, Kresge was locked into long-term leases on these older, less than desirable locations, so a third store format was devised to make use of those stores. Those Kresge stores would be converted to “Jupiter” stores, a bare-bones discount operation specializing in a limited line of high-demand, basic goods at deep discount prices. Robert Drew-Bear, in his excellent book “Mass Merchandising” cites that the Jupiter format “made it possible to move items such as price-maintained men’s underwear with extreme speed, whereas the same line barely moved as a (Kresge) store item”.

On January 25, 1962, the first store under the Kmart name opened, one that was generally thought of as a “test” Kmart in California’s San Fernando Valley, a store of only 24,000 square feet. The first “official” Kmart, a 60,000 square foot store, opened in the Detroit suburb of Garden City, Michigan on March 1 of that year. By the end of 1962, 18 Kmarts would be in operation.

It was an impressive start for an initiative that would profoundly change the S.S. Kresge Company and indeed American retailing in general. Within a few short years, the Kmart stores would leave not only Kresge’s variety store competition, including Woolworths and Grants, in the proverbial dust, but a good number of other retailers as well.

The first artist’s rendering is of the Kresge store at Pontiac Mall (later Summit Place Mall) of Pontiac, Michigan and dates from 1960. The second one, in color, is from an unknown location, 1959. Below is the Kresge store located at Winrock Center, in Albuquerque New Mexico, from 1961 along with renderings of the new formats - Jupiter and Kmart, from the same year.
Note: Thanks to the anonymous commenter who was kind enough to provide us a link to some vintage 1964 Kresge store "mood music" - Fantastic!

Thursday, April 17, 2008


From the tail end of the 60’s well into the early 80’s, my family and I often shopped at Kmart. (In my case, the one at Algonquin and Golf Roads in Arlington Heights, Illinois. A Lowe’s now sits on that site.) I was always intrigued by a small, fluorescent light red sticker with black type that read “Remember…TYFSAK!” that seemed to be on every cash register in the store, right next to the numeric display. Tyfsak?! What in the world is that? For me, it became the Great Mystery of Kmart. Somehow, eventually, the nickel dropped and I figured out that it stood for “Thank you for shopping at Kmart”, the phrase all conscientious Kmart checkers exclaimed at the end of every successful transaction. Guess I could have asked, but that would have taken all the fun out of it.

The photo above is of a Detroit-area Kmart, Christmas season 1965, when Kmart was beginning to knock the traditional retail world back on its heels.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

All Together Now at Fisher-Fazio's

The Fisher-Fazio family is gathered together for this “family photo” from 1975. Even Uncle Ralph from Chicago drove in, with his bag of groceries from Dominick’s. (Just seeing that 70’s Dominick’s bag makes my arms hurt, when I think back on how many hundreds of those things I lugged from the family gas guzzler’s trunk to our kitchen back then. Definitely more good memories than bad of those days, though…) Along the wall are displays of Heritage House canned goods, Fisher-Fazio’s house brand, that were big sellers in the Ohio and Chicago stores.

Things began to unravel at Fisher-Fazio in the late seventies, with most of their divisions not faring well in the “price wars” of that era. In 1976, the company lost its number one slot in their core Cleveland area to Pick-N-Pay. The California stores, which had never really taken off under Fisher-Fazio leadership, proved to be a drain on the company’s profits and as mentioned were sold off to Albertsons that year. Within a couple of years, they would trim the sails in markets closer to home, including Youngstown and Columbus among others.

In October 1980, the company found itself in serious legal (and public relations) trouble when it was charged in a price-fixing scheme along with competitors Stop-N-Shop and First National Stores, owner of Cleveland’s Pick-N-Pay chain. Executives from the three companies, including Fisher CEO John Fazio, were indicted. Fazio received probation in 1982, and his sentence was commuted two years later. The three companies were ultimately forced to make restitution to Northeast Ohio customers, sending out coupons for $20 worth of free groceries to some one million households.

The company lost one of its major (and only) bright spots in 1981. Unhappy with Fisher's direction, Dominick DiMatteo Jr. bought back Dominick’s, the company his father founded, for nearly $100 million. By that time Dominick’s had grown to 71 stores and second place (behind Jewel) in Chicago market share.

In 1983, Cincinnati-based American Financial Corp., headed by Carl H. Lindner, purchased an interest in Fisher Foods. Lindner is a well-known Cincinnati industrialist, whose interests have included Chiquita Brands International (yep, the banana company is actually based in Cincinnati), United Dairy Farmers (a chain of dairy/convenience stores) and for a time, a major interest in the Cincinnati Reds. In 1984, Lindner’s company would buy out the Fazio family’s holdings in Fisher Foods, ending an era.

The economic difficulties – loss of manufacturing jobs, population decline, etc., which plagued the Cleveland area made for a difficult operating environment, and in 1987 American Financial decided to sell their controlling share in Fisher Foods to a group of familiar names in the Cleveland grocery industry. A new entity, named for a Bedford Heights, Ohio address - “5300 Richmond Road Corporation”, was put together by American Seaway Foods, Rini’s Stop-N-Shop and Rego’s Stop-N-Shop. In a way, the forming of this consortium was reminiscent of the process that reconstituted Fisher Foods back in the sixties. The “5300” company would fold into Riser Foods, the name of which incorporated (sort of) the first initials of the Rini, Seaway and Rego names. In 1997, Riser was absorbed into Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fazio's California Adventure

Under management by the Fazio/Costa group, Fisher Foods became widely recognized as one of America’s fastest-growing supermarket chains at the end of the 1960’s, going into the early 70’s. The company had begun a successful expansion program, adding other key Ohio markets to their original Cleveland base. The acquisition of the Dominick’s chain in Chicago was bearing fruit as well, and the purchase of Kroger’s remaining Chicago stores in 1970 would more than double their presence there.

To keep the momentum going, the Southern California market was chosen as Fisher’s next expansion frontier. On June 12, 1972, a purchase agreement was announced between Fisher Foods and the Dayton-based E.F. MacDonald Company, owner of the Shopping Bag supermarkets, a 46-store chain with regional headquarters in San Gabriel, California and stores throughout the SoCal market. MacDonald, known best as the owner of Plaid Stamps, was eager to sell the operation, which had been losing money.

Shopping Bag Food Stores began its existence with one small grocery store on L.A.’s Wilshire Boulevard in 1930. Three years later, Shopping Bag would open its first supermarket, and the company would grow with the area from there, going public in 1954. In 1960, Shopping Bag was merged into Vons Grocery Company, adding its 38 stores to Vons’ 28. The Shopping Bag units would continue to operate under their original name. In 1965, The Federal Trade Commission filed suit against Vons in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleging that the Vons/Shopping Bag merger served to lessen grocery competition in the area. Initially, Vons won the case, but the Justice Department appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, who in a landmark ruling the following year ordered Vons to divest the Shopping Bag stores. The whole proceeding seems almost laughable today, considering the favorable eye the FTC has cast upon much larger mergers through the last 30 years or so, truly setting up a “mega-merger’’ climate.

In June 1967, Vons completed the sale of 40 stores (35 Shopping Bags and 5 Vons) to E.F. MacDonald. The MacDonald firm was founded by Elton “Mac” MacDonald, who in 1957 had sold out his 1/3 interest in Top Value Stamps, the brand used by Kroger and Boston’s Stop and Shop, among others. After initially turning away from the trading stamp biz when he ventured off on his own, MacDonald created Plaid Stamps and landed a huge customer for them at the dawn of the sixties– The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, who had previously resisted the trading stamp trend with vehemence. Eventually, competitive pressures and the pleas of A&P district managers led the company to adopt the stamps in a number of its regions.

A successful supplier to the industry, now MacDonald would try its own hand as a supermarket operator, in arguably the most dynamic market of all. They would modernize some stores, open new ones, and sell off a good number of the smaller units. MacDonald made a bold move in 1969 when they bought out A&P’s 31 supermarkets (adding to the 40 existing Shopping Bags at the time) in the Los Angeles, ending A&P’s presence there. A&P, having decided that they would need twice their present number of stores in Southern California to maintain a profitable operation there, opted instead to throw in the towel. The A&P stores were converted to Shopping Bags.

In 1972, having whittled down the Shopping Bag store count to 46 stores, MacDonald agreed to sell them to Fisher Foods. The stores would be rebranded “Fazio’s-Shopping Bag” and would shift to the ever-popular “every day low price” strategy, ditching trading stamps (Ironically, Shopping Bag gave out Blue Chip Stamps, the standard for most SoCal grocery chains, instead of MacDonald’s own Plaid stamps) along the way. The stores were remodeled, and deli and bakery departments were brought up to Fisher standards. Marshall Italiano was placed in charge, reporting to John Fazio in Cleveland. Ground was broken for a new office and distribution center in City of Industry, and the first all-new Fazio’s-Shopping Bag store was slated to open in the fall of 1974 in Fountain Valley.

The California (ad)venture didn’t last long, unfortunately. The troubled economy of the mid-70’s and Fisher’s growing internal and financial problems were largely to blame. Also, a couple of embarrassing incidents – charges of false advertising and mislabeling – made the news, affecting the company’s reputation. In 1978, the Fazio-Shopping Bag stores were sold to Albertsons.

The photos above are from 1973 and 1972 respectively, and show two Shopping Bag stores freshly rebranded to add the Fazio’s name. If you click on the enlargement of the second photo, you can see three original signs with the classic Shopping Bag logo, two backlit signs above the entrance doors and a neon sign (barely visible) on the right side, near the edge of the photo. Below is a full-page display ad from late 1972, trumpeting the ownership change and new pricing policy.

I’d love to know the location of those two stores. If anyone can advise on that, I’ll gladly give them a free one-year subscription to this site.

Oh wait, it’s already free…
In that case, a free “thank you” instead!
Thanks to Jeff for identifying the store in the second picture as the one located at 1000 E. Valley in Alhambra, and for bringing us up to date on that location: "It was remodeled in the late 70's and again in the 90's. Most of the glass in the front was taken off. This store was later converted into an Albertsons, then a Grocery Warehouse, then a Max Foods, now a Lucky store. That tower lasted until the 2nd remodel".
Jeff has come through for us once again, identifying the first store location as 1611 W Whittier in La Habra. He visited this location and found: What looks like a neighborhood in the back sorta matches.- The brick is still on 2 sides of the building- The Sign is still in the same spot on the store- The light to the left of the sign is present today.- The driveway is there but could have been refigured. The store over the years though has been remodeled at least two times.
Thanks, Jeff!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The fabulous fazio's

By the early 1960’s, Fisher Foods was in trouble. The company began losing ground in the late 1950’s, posting a net loss for 1959. The losses would grow, topping $300,000 in 1963. By 1964, with 90% of Fisher’s stores now losing money, the company was ripe for a takeover. In January of that year, a group of Cleveland investors (which, importantly, was made up of career supermarket operators) bought shares in Fisher totaling approximately 55% of the value of the company.

The group was composed of members of the Stop-N-Shop Super Markets Association (no relation to the New England or California Stop and Shops), a Cleveland-based supermarket cooperative. Several members of the Stop-N-Shop group were previously part of another Cleveland-based cooperative, Foodtown Supermarkets, which was formed in 1948 and sold to ACF-Wrigley supermarkets in 1956. (Thanks to "Traveler" for straightening out my facts on this. See the comments section for this post for more interesting details.) The individuals leading the buyout were Carl and John Fazio and Joe Fana of Fazio’s Stop-N-Shop, Sam and Frank Costa of Costa’s Stop-N-Shop, and Seaway Foods, an Aurora, Ohio-based wholesale grocer. Joining the new management group would be Julius (Julie) Kravitz, the executive director of the Stop-N-Shop association. Interestingly, the prospective new ownership group owned only seven supermarkets between them, compared with Fisher’s over 70 stores at the time. The Fisher name would be maintained for the new corporate entity and for a time on the stores as well.

In February 1965, the group made an offer to buy out the remaining shares of the company from the Fisher, Salmon and Conway families. A stockholders meeting was set for the following month, and despite some very public objections from a few relatively small stockholders, the transaction went through. Fisher Foods had a new, energized group of leaders and a new lease on life.

Right away, the Fisher-Fazio team set about modernizing and upgrading the stores, and placing an increased emphasis on meats, deli, produce and wines. It didn’t take long for sales results to improve, and within the first year profits began to rebound as well. The company began to expand into other Ohio markets, including the Akron area, where the first Fazio’s “Family Center”, a 60,000 square foot food and general merchandise combination store, would open in 1968.

In 1968, Fisher made its first acquisition outside the Ohio market with the purchase of Chicago's Dominick’s Finer Foods, an 18-store chain with locations throughout the city and in the (mostly north) near suburbs. A family owned business with an excellent reputation and strengths comparable to Fazio’s, Dominick’s was still a relatively small player compared to Chicago market leader Jewel Tea, a still fairly strong National Tea, and a still-participating A&P, but that would change in the coming years as Dominick’s would grow tremendously, eventually taking the number-two spot in the market. Dominick DiMatteo, Jr., company president and son of Dominick’s founder, would be named a vice president of Fisher Foods.

Fisher also entered the fast food business in 1969 when it acquired a stake in Columbus-based National Fast Food Corporation, owners of the Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips chain. Famous British actor that he was, I remember ol’ Arthur best as the Constable in the movie Mary Poppins, though he played many other film roles. As part of the agreement, Fisher took over territory rights for Arthur Treacher’s in the Cleveland and Chicago markets, totaling at the time over 100 restaurants. One more company Fisher took over during the late sixties was Clabers, a seven store chain of “junior” department stores in the Pittsburgh area.

The new Fazio’s stores sported a fresh, interesting appearance that to my mind preceded the “70’s look” for the industry as a whole by at least a couple of years. In 1967, Fisher opened a 36,000 square foot Fazio's store in the new Midway Mall in Elyria, Ohio, that received very favorable reviews in the supermarket industry press and would set the style for Fazio’s stores into the next decade. This store featured a dark red brick fa├žade, with a cedar-shingled mansard roof above the store entrance and relatively small wood-framed windows. The cedar-shingled motif continued inside the store with rooflike awnings above the delicatessen and bakery departments. Freezer cases were an elegant burnt umber, a contrast to the pastel colors that were popular in years past.

The first five photos were taken between 1969 and 1972 and are typical of the Fazio’s stores of that period. The exterior photo is extremely similar in appearance to the Elyria store mentioned above, and the interior shots show minor differences, but are fairly close as well. Some of you may remember the very 70’s Kraft “Squeez-A-Snak” tubes which are shown in the foreground of the second photo. These were among my Grandmother’s favorites. If I remember right, they came in about four or five flavors, some much less appetizing than others.

The sixth photo, from 1968, shows the entrance to the first Fazio’s Family Center in Akron, Ohio.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

It Was Fresher at Fisher's

Fisher Foods, Cleveland’s largest grocery chain for a major chunk of its 80-year history, was founded in 1907 as Fisher Brothers Company. The Fisher Brothers, Manning and Charles, were natives of Jersey City, New Jersey and got their start in the grocery business in New York City in the waning years of the 19th century, where Manning worked for James Butler, a grocer who owned 150 stores in the city. Eager to make their own mark in the business, the brothers set out for the greener pastures of Cleveland and opened their first store there at 4623 Lorain Avenue.

The Fishers were joined in Cleveland by Irish-born Joseph Salmon, who had also worked for Butler, and would manage that first Cleveland store. Years later, upon Manning Fisher’s death in 1931, Salmon would assume the presidency of the company. Manning’s son Ellwood would eventually take the company reins in the late thirties. The company grew quickly, to 24 stores in its first five years, then to over 120 stores by the mid-twenties, surpassing 300 stores in the decade that followed.

Like many supermarket chains, Fisher stayed in step with industry trends. The company launched self-service with their first “Master Market”, a larger (average 12,000 square foot) format that would become their standard, in October 1937. The company would build over 50 of these by the dawn of World War II. Also, as with a large number of other chains, Fisher’s consolidation move towards larger stores would lower their overall store count into the late forties and early fifties. Throughout this period, the company would restrict its market area to the greater Cleveland area, as an Elyria Chronicle-Telegram article put it, “as far west as Oberlin, as far east as Ashtabula, and as far south as Medina and Bedford”.

The photos, in reverse chronological order, are as follows: a 1956 store, unidentified location, from Chain Store Age, the second photo of a brand new Fisher Foods Master Market which opened in Elyria, Ohio in June, 1952 and last, a photo of the very first Fisher Bros. store. The latter two photos are from the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.