Friday, May 30, 2008

Mrs. Chicago Shows Jewel The Way!

“What changes would you make, Mrs. Chicago – if you had your way? What is your idea of a perfect food store?” asked Jewel of Chicago’s homemakers, seeking ideas on how to transform their recently acquired , middling chain of former Loblaw stores into a grocery shoppers’ nirvana.

18,389 women answered the call.

And Jewel responded.

The greatest thing about this May 1934 full page ad, beyond the cute (if now politically incorrect) premise, snappy ad copy and illustrations is the presence of a complete listing of Jewel Food Stores in existence at the time, 87 in number. This was two years into the chain’s ownership by Jewel, by which time they were off to a solid start on their way to Chicago grocery market dominance.

This should serve as a reliable guide for Chicago-based retail archaeologists looking to track down the earliest history of Jewel. Just for fun, I typed in six or seven of the addresses into Windows Live Local, and several times a building turned up that could have easily dated from the early 1930’s or before, a very heartening sign.

Happy hunting, Jewel fans!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Postwar Jewel, 1947

Throughout the 1940’s, Jewel Tea Company’s experience was similar to that of several other successful regional grocery firms. Like many other companies both within and outside of the retail food industry, Jewel did its part for the war effort. The company “got into war work” – producing rations for the U.S. Quartermaster Corps.

And like many of their counterparts, Jewel experienced minimal growth during the War Years – (1941 to 1945), followed by slow, steady growth in the second half of the decade. Material shortages, which really didn’t ease until the end of the decade, held the construction of new stores to a slow pace. Also, the entire industry was impacted by the “excess profits tax”, which subjected profits above a certain level to an additional tax of 80% or more. This continued until the early 1950’s.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, Jewel (and again, many of their fellow industry travelers) would more than make up for these setbacks, expanding furiously, with greatly improved profitability.

The forties were a pivotal decade for Jewel in many ways. While it lagged behind the Route Division in throughout the 1930’s, by 1942 the Food Stores division accounted for 60 percent of Jewel’s sales. This percentage would rise during the height of the war (1943-44), fall back slightly in the years immediately following the war, and then rise irreversibly from that point on.
This was the first full decade for the “Jewel Retirement Estates”, originally established in 1938 as one of the very first employee profit-sharing programs in American business, an initiative which garnered Jewel praise from many quarters. Another step, which in time would also enhance Jewel’s public image was the appointment of 36-year old Franklin J. Lunding as company president in 1942.

Lunding was possessed of a highly developed sensitivity toward both Jewel employees and customers, expanding the retirement program and adding a host of other benefits, including scholarships and insurance, which were by no means standard perks at the time. In 1951, Lunding would pen a best-selling book “Sharing a Business”, in which he passed on Jewel’s successful methods of management, with a heavy emphasis on giving managers decision making input. Lunding would go on to become Jewel’s chairman, and in 1960 would take on the additional responsibility of chairman of the Chicago branch of the Federal Reserve Board.

The photo montage above dates from 1947, and shows Jewel’s two main marketing approaches, a route truck and a “modern food market” surrounding a dainty cup of coffee. Jewel would sell the ground equivalent of 1,700,000,000 cups of coffee that year. The photo below shows Jewel’s three house brands for canned goods – Bluebrook, Mary Dunbar and Cherry Valley, names that graced Jewel shelves until the late 1970’s when they were sidelined in favor of a unified “Jewel” private label brand. Mary Dunbar was the maiden name of Jewel’s first “spokeswoman”, and was used generically by the company for many years afterward. From the 30’s thought the 50’s, tens of thousands of Mary Dunbar recipe books found their way into American kitchens.

Speaking of “war work”, here’s a great pic from Dave Mewhinney’s great Electric Railroads picture pages showing a Jewel store on Clark St., south of Diversey and Broadway, and another near the intersection of Madison St. and Austin Blvd.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Inside a Jewel Food Store, 1944

Here are a couple of interior views of a Jewel store from late 1944. It’s hard to describe what I like most about these wonderful scenes – The orange collars on the employees’ white uniforms, standard for Jewel at the time. The bright, bold graphics of the 1940’s packaging. The gleaming porcelain refrigeration cases. The simple elegance of the light fixtures. The natural beauty of the vegetable displays. The Jewel script logo (which I really miss) on the wall poster. The simple Christmas decorations, including real pine garland, something you’d never see in a commercial location today. The well-worn wooden floors...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chicago's Little Jewel

Jewel Tea Company, as it was known from its inception in 1899 until 1966, had a national reputation as a home delivery service long before it became established as the dominant Chicago grocery chain. The company was founded in 1899 with a rented horse and wagon by Iowa native Frank Skiff, who two years later would be joined in partnership by his brother-in-law, Frank Ross. Starting with a single Chicago route, sales of coffee (always the bedrock of the business) and other food items – mainly tea, spices and soap products were $11,000 in 1901, the first year of the partnership.

Jewel grew rapidly, to the point that they opened their own manufacturing plant in Chicago in 1909, in order to accommodate the growing demand for their private label foods and cleaning products. By 1910, sales had grown to a million dollars annually, and 100 routes were in operation. By 1915, sales had surpassed the $8 million mark and 850 routes were established, remarkable by any standard.

One of the keys to Jewel’s growth was the company’s practice of giving away premiums to their customers in order to help ensure their loyalty. Some of the premiums, for example, were giveaway lithographs featuring engraved, idyllic scenes in the Currier and Ives mold. These lithographs did much to stimulate the sales of Jewel’s soap flakes, a harder sell than one would think in those days when many families made their own soap from animal fats and such (yeesh, shades of Granny Clampett!). The most common premium approach, however, usually consisted of a coupon included in a package of coffee or tea which customers could save and redeem for a piece of Haviland China. For years Haviland would enjoy a very successful partnership with Jewel. (Later the company would partner with East Liverpool, Ohio-based Hall China, manufacturers of the famous Jewel “Autumn Leaf” pattern, a wildly popular series with collectors today. As John Wright points out in his Marketing History of the Jewel Tea Company, “(Jewel’s) coffee sales spiraled even at company prices of twenty-five cents a pound at a time when grocery stores only charged seventeen cents”.

Frank Ross was responsible for one of history’s most successful marketing devices, one which would pay dividends for Jewel Tea and a good number of other companies through the years – the advanced premium. Now a Jewel salesman would offer a homemaker an entire set of Haviland China up front – her family would have use of the wonderful new dishes right away. All she had to do was buy a certain number of Jewel products over an agreed period of time. Customers appreciated the trust, and Jewel’s sales exploded. More than any other factor, the advanced premium placed Jewel atop the industry.

A major milestone was reached in March, 1916 when Jewel Tea Company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Fueled by their success, Skiff and Ross set out on an ambitious expansion drive to double the amount of service routes, adding distant regions of the country to the company’s operating area, whereas previous growth had always been contiguous to their existing territory, radiating from Chicago. Events would prove the drive to be a bit too ambitious in light of the onset of World War I, with its attendant shortage of raw material and other problems. In 1919, by which time both Skiff and Ross had stepped aside, the company incurred its first loss, ($1.6 million) and new president John S. Hancock took the reins.

The new team took steps to turn Jewel around, one of which was trimming low volume or unprofitable routes, ending up with some 1,000 routes by 1921 from a previous high of over 1,600. The cutbacks helped restore Jewel’s financial health, and over the next 10 years Jewel would regrow the route business, albeit at a much more conservative rate of 50-60 new routes a year.

In June, 1929 Jewel began construction of a magnificent headquarters complex in Barrington, Illinois, 32 miles northwest of Chicago, in what then could only be loosely called a suburb. “Jewel Park”, as it was called, would be the new home of the company’s headquarters and would also host their coffee roasting operation, turning out the company’s signature product in vast quantities.

In 1932, a new law was passed in the tiny community of Green River, Wyoming, which would have at least a partial hand in shaping the destiny of Jewel Tea. The law, which came to be known as the “Green River Ordinance”, forbade uninvited solicitors, striking at the very heart of Jewel’s livelihood, driving home the necessity to Jewel management of diversifying the business. Also, the company, now fully recovered from its earlier travails, found itself at this point with a large surplus of cash and a critical need to put the money to good use. The perfect vehicle was about to come their way.

On March 14, 1932, The Wall Street Journal announced that the Jewel Tea Company had purchased 77 Chicago-area grocery stores from Loblaw Groceterias, Inc., a Canadian firm (which is still a familiar name to Canadian shoppers, by the way) which was seeking to trim back its operations during the darkest economic hour of the 1930’s. At the same time, Jewel bought out four stores from the Middle West Grocery Co., about which I’m pretty sure next to nothing is known today. So out of the box, Jewel entered the market with 81 stores.

Pictured above are three 1930’s Jewel Food Stores with an average of probably 5 to 7,000 square feet, very much in keeping with other chain grocers of that era. Oftentimes the stores occupied the first floor of a much older building. As Jewel upgraded from the Loblaw properties, more and more of the stores had the porcelain glazed brick facades. The location of the first two stores is unknown; the third features a pocket-sized Jewel (next to a pocket-sized Woolworth’s) in Des Plaines, a Northwest Chicago suburb. Below, in a nod to Jewel’s original home-service business, are some 1940's photos featuring Jewel’s lineup of home delivery products.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Thanks For Tuning In!

…and welcome to all of those who are visiting from, where I’ve noticed this site is featured today! The Kmart posts are below (just scroll down) and on the next page. Hope that you enjoy these looks at our well-dressed retail past. A number of discount store and supermarket chains have been featured (plus a lot of stuff about Sears) up to now, and they can be searched by chain and in some cases by city on the lower right side of the page. If your favorite chain isn't on here yet, hopefully it will be soon.

The scene above is from a G.C. Murphy store in 1968, where a finely outfitted family is about to drop some serious disposable income on a new RCA Color TV. The family’s first color set, I’d be willing to bet.

Hope you enjoy it and thanks very much again!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gotta Stop at Jewel's

A great 1966 view of a new Jewel-Osco “Master Market” combination store, complete with rooftop parking to maximize customer draw in this Chicago city location, a place where free parking can’t always be taken for granted.

This store typifies the architectural style that Jewel (often affectionately referred to as “Jewel's” or The Jewel) used for decades – clean and simple, not flashy. But for those of us who grew up there – memorable.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kmart - Big Changes for the Bluelight

Having enjoyed a golden decade from the mid-sixties through the mid-seventies, from that point on things would become complicated for Kmart. Part of this was due to external factors such as competition and general economic ups and downs, but a series of management decisions made along the way certainly played a major factor as well.

While Kmart was an early pioneer in automated distribution, they were slow to adopt computer technology for inventory control and ordering, ostensibly to maintain a high level of independence for store managers, but it proved very costly in terms of efficiency. A much larger factor, from the public’s point of view, was the appearance of the stores. While looking at these photos tends to make me (and many of you, as I’ve learned) very nostalgic for those days, one would have to admit that by the time the 1980’s rolled around, the look had become extremely dated. Over time, the public perception of the company unfortunately (and in many respects undeservedly) shifted from a source of “value-priced” goods to one of cheap goods.

As the eighties rolled on, the company found itself fighting a two-front war, on one side against Wal-Mart, which by that time had grown well beyond the Mid-South region, becoming a true national competitor. Wal-Mart, with highly sophisticated information systems and very aggressive supplier policies became extremely formidable in price competition. On the other flank, Dayton-Hudson’s Target stores had expanded far outside of their original Midwestern footprint, in part through the acquisition of such regional chains as Richway, its sister nameplate Gold Circle and a large number of Gemco units from Lucky Stores. Pursuing a strategy that emphasized affordable style, Target signed up designer Michael Graves, among others, to develop chic housewares for those on a budget. Kmart was now in the unenviable position of having to compete with Target on style and Wal-Mart on price.

In 1987, Kmart took a final step in cutting ties to its origins by selling all but 11 of the remaining Kresge and Jupiter stores to Rapid-American Corporation’s McCrory Stores division. By the 1980’s Rapid-American was a key caretaker of America’s 5-and-10 store heritage, owning McCrory, H.L. Green, J.J. Newberry, T G & Y, and McLellan’s. Their only competitors in that fading segment were Woolworth’s and Ben Franklin. Ironically, S.S. Kresge had gotten his start in the business in 1897 as joint owner of a dime store in Memphis, Tennessee with J.G. McCrory. The pair would later open a Detroit store (where Kresge would establish his namesake company) and a handful of others before going their separate ways, starting variety store dynasties under their own names.

In a mid-eighties bid to shore up their fortunes, Kmart embarked on a spree of diversified retail acquisitions that would last into the next decade. The list was extensive. During this period, Kmart bought out, among others, Waldenbooks (and later on Borders Books), the predecessor of what would become Builders Square, The Sports Authority, Pay Less Northwest (a Wilsonville, Oregon-based operator of 164 drug stores in the western states), and OfficeMax, a big-box office supply firm that Kmart acquired a stake in when it sold them a handful of “Office Square” stores (a short lived office supply concept that traded on the Builders Square nameplate). Within a few years, Kmart would buy a controlling interest in OfficeMax. There was also a chain of membership stores called Pace Membership Warehouse. Eventually, Kmart would combine many of these into an entity called the Specialty Store Division. Over the long haul, these acquisitions proved to be little help to the company, and in the mid-90’s Kmart began to sell off or spin off these divisions in a succession nearly as rapid as when it bought them in the first place. A large number of the Pace stores were sold to arch-competitor Wal-Mart for conversion to Sam’s Clubs. In 1998, Kmart would sell off its flagging 112-store Canadian division to Toronto-based Hudson’s Bay Company, who would combine it with its 298-store Zellers division, the leading discount chain in Canada.

In 1990, Kmart took the first step towards changing its image, adopting a new logo for the first time. That year, the company replaced its familiar “Kmart” logo with a red block letter “K” with the word “mart” written in script in the upper leg of the K. In my opinion, the single letter looked a bit lonely up there on the expansive horizontal facades of most Kmart stores. The company must have taken pride in their new logo, as I learned when my wife and I stopped into a Kmart shorted after it was introduced. She had worked at this Kmart one Christmas season before we were married to supplement her teaching income, and we decided to pop in to say hi to the manager, her old boss. He asked our opinion of the new logo, and my wife commented on how it reminded her of the old “Big K” signs. Big K was a chain of mid-south discount stores that Wal-Mart bought out in the early eighties.

He didn’t appreciate the comparison. (Hey, at least we didn’t try to claim credit when years later they added the word “Big” to many of their signs starting in 1996!) Recently, Kmart has adopted a new logo, restoring “mart” to its rightful place.

A more positive effect came about when in 1997 Kmart persuaded domestic diva Martha Stewart to create a comprehensive line of household goods to be exclusively sold at Kmart. Called “Martha Stewart Everyday” this very broad product line included everything from dishes to cookware to linens, towels and bath d├ęcor, and has in many ways been a lifeline for Kmart. There has been rampant speculation as to whether Ms. Stewart will renew her agreement with Kmart when it expires in 2009.

Despite Martha’s best efforts, Kmart skidded inexorably toward bankruptcy as the nineties drew to a close. Incurring a staggering $2.46 billion dollar loss for 2001, Kmart filed for bankruptcy protection on January 22, 2002. Operating 2,114 stores at the time of the filing, massive closings would follow, and a great many people who grew up shopping at Kmart would suddenly find that there was no longer one in or near their communities. The first wave of closings shuttered 284 stores, and sadly more waves were to follow.

A year later, the future of Kmart would be revealed when it was announced that a group of investors, led by 38–year old billionaire Edward S. Lampert, had submitted a plan to usher Kmart out of bankruptcy. Many changes, a degree of stability and a runup in Kmart’s value would follow, and Kmart has lived to fight to this day, although the road remains challenging, to put it mildly. In November 2004, Kmart announced its intentions to buy Sears, Roebuck and Co., a most ironic twist of fate considering the companies’ arch rivalry for America’s retail crown in the 70’s and 80’s. The combined entity was named Sears Holdings Company, and eventually many Kmart executives would relocate from Kmart’s massive 70’s modern headquarters in Troy, Michigan (which is now finally being torn down -many thanks to the reader who sent this link discussing the complex's fate) to Sears (also massive and much newer) HQ in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates. From a consumer’s standpoint, a significant change has been the availability of core Sears brands in Kmart stores, including Die Hard, Kenmore and Craftsman.

The photos above are circa 1976, and show the sign and an interior from the Ionia, Michigan store, a “Group 9” store which was previously operated under another name. The third photo shows the checkouts from a new store in Oxford, Ohio. The fourth is a snack bar shot, location unknown, and the last store pictured is another Group 9 unit from Dyersburg, Tennessee. Thanks to John Flack, who has a great page on the opening of the Marlton, NJ Two Guys store, for photos 2 through 5.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Kmart - That 70's Store

Ah, the seventies. An era of taste and refinement. Of subtlety and style. And no place was better to outfit that style than Kmart. I believe that these Kmart scenes from the early and mid seventies capture the essence of that era as well as any photo, retail or non-retail, that I’ve ever seen.

Up first is a great early evening photo, from 1973, of the standard seventies Kmart exterior, followed by three very busy, slightly more recent interior shots, showing a virtual sea of 70’s humanity. In the first interior photo, the snack bar can be seen at the left rear of the store. And no, that’s not Ashton Kutcher with his back to the camera, this was the real seventies. The third and fourth photos show checkout area scenes.

By the middle of the decade, one of the burning questions in retail revolved around Kmart and whether their sales would surpass those of Sears, Roebuck and Co. By late 1976, Kmart had pulled past number two JCPenney, with $100 million more in sales and 70 percent higher profits than that well respected company. Another factor that didn’t escape notice was the increasing contrast of Kmart’s success with the troubles of their direct competitors, including some big national and regional discounting names – Grants, Interstate Department Stores (Topps and White Front), Arlan’s, Mammoth Mart and National Bellas Hess, to name just a few who were either out of business by then or were in bankruptcy reorganization. Within a few years, all would be gone.

In 1974, having established Kmarts in most major markets, Kresge launched a second Kmart format which they internally called the “Group 9 stores” specifically for smaller communities who were thought to be unable to support a full-sized (average 73,000 to 96,000 square feet) Kmart. The Group 9 stores were typically in the 40,000 square feet range. Interestingly, several of the Group 9 stores were originally opened as competitors’ discount stores. Kresge was able to capitalize on the misfortunes of several chains such as those named above and convert the stores to the smaller Kmarts. In 1977, the company would change its name from S.S. Kresge Company to Kmart Corporation, an acknowledgment that over 90 percent of their sales were coming from the Kmart stores.

Here are a few video links of vintage Kmart commercials for your enjoyment. The first one comes to us courtesy of Jack, a fan of this site, who commented recently on his pilgrimage to a local Kmart, searching for remnants of the golden era. This mid-70's commercial, which has become my life’s dream to reenact, was filmed in a store that very closely resembles the one pictured above. It features about as ecstatic (and well choreographed) a reaction to a new store in town as one could possibly imagine. For the last week, I’ve been walking around the house yelling “Kmart!” at random. You’ll see why. The second one, a Christmas commercial from 1974, features the eminently singable “Kmart is your saving place” jingle in its pure original form, one that would be heard in countless alternate versions in the years that followed. The last one is from the 1980 Christmas season, part of a charming series of commercials that I remember extremely well from my youth. Sure drives home the passage of time.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

You're Safe When You Save at Kmart

A stylishly dressed mother, with stylishly dressed daughter in tow, shops the Kmart intimates department. A family stuffs a mother lode of purchases, including a color TV, into their car, and a young girl gazes adoringly at Kmart’s return policy, (maybe thinking “gee, Mom really is safe when she shops at Kmart!”, the company’s slogan that was introduced in ‘68), these scenes are circa 1968/70.

By the close of the sixties, the success of Kmart was truly astounding by nearly all measures. A typical variety chain at the start of the decade, the S.S. Kresge Company had roared away from the pack, with no slowdown in sight. From a single Kmart in March, 1962, the chain had grown to 365 units, with 60 to 75 more planned for 1970. In 1960 Kresge’s annual sales were $ 483 million, and by 1970 they were $2.5 billion and growing by 25 percent a year, a trajectory that would be the envy of any company.