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!


  1. I find it interesting how some things such as having the fresh vegetables at the front of the store are still in practice seven decades later. Ditto for spraying the vegetables with water to keep them looking fresh. No mention of the trick with the coloured lighting, though, I guess that came later.

    As a European I also find it interesting how much those vintage Jewel stores from the 1930s or 1940s look like contemporary supermarkets, albeit fairly small ones. Germany, for example, didn't have self-service in grocery stores until well into the 1950s. And even then, most grocery stores were still the neighbourhood "Aunt Emma" type. Supermarkets only became common in the 1960s.

  2. Cora - I get the feeling that the focus in the European grocery stores has been on the food and service, as it should be. With the urban setting of many European grocery stores there requiring smaller space, I'm sure that general merchandise items must have been kept to a minimum in those stores. Interestingly, many of the larger food/general merchandise combination stores that began popping up in the US in the 60's and 70's were credited to another European concept, the Hypermarche.

    Incidentally, Jewel, the Chicago-based chain I've been writing about lately, had significant holdings in two European supermarket chains in the 60's and 70's - Supermarches GB in Belgium and Stella Supermarkets in Italy.

  3. This is a really great ad, Dave. I have been looking for something like this. I'm definately going to be getting my trusty camera ready to photograph some of these locations. Well done!

  4. In Germany, the neighbourhood grocery concept held on at least into the 1980s/1990s. It still persists in urban areas, albeit in slightly different form, as ethnic (i.e. Turkish, Lebanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Russian, etc...) groceries, though the traditional small neighbourhood grocery has largely died out in rural areas. But EDEKA, which used to supply those tiny Mom and Pop shops, has largely morphed into a supermarket chain by now - the small neighbourhood EDEKA has all but ceased to exist.

    When I was a child, the village where I grew up still had three general neighbourhood groceries plus three bakeries and a butcher shop. The three bakeries and the butcher shop are still there, all under the same management save one, but the general grocery stores are all gone, because the people voted with their feet and headed for the supermarkets and discounters in the neighbouring villages. Though the fact that the service in the three general groceries was pretty bad (one was owned by a gambler, the owner of another had body hygiene issues) probably had something to do with it.

    The concept of mixing food and general merchandise has been around in Germany at least since the late 1970s. The Comet and KAFU chains both sold non-food items (mainly household wares and toys) in their stores, as did Real, still known as Realkauf in those days. Though the really big stores mixing food and general merchandise, including clothes, electronics and furniture (which KAFU and Comet did not carry) only showed up in my area in the mid 1980s. In recent years, general merchandise increasingly seems to crowd out the food products which annoys me. Whenever I visit a Real store (which is the only game in many places, now that Wal-Mart pulled out), I have to wade through clothes, toys, housewares, etc... to get to the food section at the back of the store. And even Real stores which a smaller foodprint, e.g. mall supermarkets, still carry the whole range of general merchandise but a reduced food range.

    The coffee chains (merchandisers selling coffee via independent bakeries) and the discounters like Aldi (which I know the US has) and others have been in the general merchandise game for a long time as well, though these chains don't carry a whole range of general merchandise (the stores are too small for that) but offer weekly specials. The coffee chains usually offer household items, clothing, jewelery and toys, discount chains like Aldi offer pretty much everything from clothes via computers to power tools. Both have been doing this for a long time - my Mom bought a lot of coffee chain merchandise in the early 1980s and I distinctly remember being given an Aldi jacket (and refusing to wear it) around 1983/84. The coffee chains have been making more money with their specials than with coffee for several years now.

  5. Didi- looking forward to seeing 'em!

    Cora - Thanks for that great background on food retail in Germany. You've certainly witnessed a major shift in trends in recent years!

    Suprising news when Wal-Mart pulled out of Germany. Are the Metro stores faring any better?

    You mentioned Aldi - they have definitely been a success story here in the states, and they're still expanding rapidly. I was intrigued to read a while back how the Albrecht brothers run the company almost as two different operations in Germany. The other Albrecht family business, Trader Joe's, is also a phenomenal success here - the rare type of store that communities are begging for.

  6. In a nutshell, Wal-Mart had to pull out of Germany, because they thought that what worked for them in the US would work in Germany as well, in spite of a very different retail landscape.

    Hence, they held onto their "Our prices are the lowest" approach, even though it was obvious that they could never beat Aldi and the other discounters at their own game, when they should have stressed the wide variety of products they offered at low prices. Plus, Wal-Mart managers never grasped that labour rights are different, that you cannot fire people for being in a union and that forbidding sexual relationships between employees made them look like snooping where they have no business.

    In the beginning, Wal-Mart even had greeters at the store entrance and people to pack up your purchases, just like in an American store, both of which at best baffled German customers unused to that sort of thing (and I wouldn't be surprised if some poor Wal-Mart packer found himself smacked by some old lady for trying to steal her groceries). They quickly discontinued both, though I think the packers might have worked (since it is convenient), if they had offered it as an optional service on certain cash registers rather than the norm. They kept other American tics, such as not selling Playboy and other skin mags, even though no one raises an eyebrow at that sort of thing. I actually asked a Wal-Mart clerk for a Playboy once and she told me, "Sorry, we don't carry that." I asked why, though I already know, and she said, "No idea. But you can buy it at the independent newsstand right outside." Incidentally, that newsstand carried the whole range not just of Playboy but of seriously weird fetish mags. Wal-Mart also insisted on flying the German and US flag outside their stores right to the end, though flags are only flown in Germany outside official buildings when there is some sort of national holiday or by private individuals when there's a soccer game.

    That said, I actually miss Wal-Mart. The one closest to me was a former Wertkauf store. The Wal-Mart was a great improvement, because the store was cleaner under their management, smelled better, the cash registers were always fully staffed and there was very little wait (something which can be a real problem with many other stores at peak hours). Plus, they had the best fish department of any grocery chain.

    The Metro stores are doing better in the former Wal-Mart locations, simply because Metro knows the German market. Most of the really big (former Wertkauf) stores were converted into Real stores, which means that Real is now the only game in the big grocery/general merchandise store business in many locations. Some of the smaller (former Interspar) Wal-Marts were converted into Extra supermarkets, Saturn stores (electronics chain) or Media Markt stores (another electronics chain). A few of the really run-down ones (the Interspar chain had pretty grotty, run-down stores in aging buildings before the Wal-Mart takeover) were sold off. There is a smallish former Wal-Mart, former Interspar store in my area which was taken over by Kaufland, an independent supermarket chain.

    Regarding Aldi, I wasn't too sure how the US would take to the "no frills, no brandnames, limited selection" concept of Aldi and amused by a James Lileks column complaining about having to insert a quarter into an Aldi shopping cart. You're actually lucky, we have to insert a one Euro coin into our shopping carts, though most people have special plastic chips. But Aldi prices are hard to beat and the quality of the merchandise is very good (a lot of Aldi products are actually brandname products with a slightly different packaging). The weekly specials can be excellent deals as well. And of course, the range of products has expanded and upscaled in recent years. I can now get genuine parmesan cheese, fresh crabs, loose green tea, tinned artichokes, etc... at Aldi's, which they wouldn't have carried ten or five years ago.

    Unlike the US, where a lot of wealthier people won't shop at Wal-Mart or even Sears, there is no stigma attached to shopping at Aldi's. Everybody from welfare recipient to CEO does it.

    I'd love for whichever Albrecht brother owns Trader Joe's (I think it's the Aldi South brother) to bring the chain to Germany, because it sounds great. Though interestingly, Trader Joe's is used as a brandname for certain Aldi products, salted nuts, dried fruit, iced tea and the like. The logo is even the same as the US logo.

  7. Cora - No matter how successful a business is in America, there are a multitude of adjustments, large and small, that have to be made in order to appeal to consumers of another country. Even then there are no guarantees. Interesting details on Wal-Mart and how their US-styled approach didn't go over that well.

    A friend of ours from France mentioned a very similar thing about their flag to me a while back, that it is displayed rarely and almost never in front of a commercial structure.

    Aldi doesn't appeal to everyone, but they do have a loyal core of shoppers here, and are growing at a fast pace. They are in a great position to grow as the gas price situation worsens here. I really like the Trader Joe's stores.

  8. At least in Western Europe, people don't have the same nearly religious connection to their flag like in the US, hence you mainly see flags in front of government buildings. And when I see a flag flying in front of a company, I immediately think, "I bet those people are Americans"

    An exception are major soccer matches which tend to turn into some kind of vaguely disturbing flag flying frenzy. The European soccer cup only starts in a week and flags have already start to appear on cars and in shop windows.

    As for Wal-Mart, they also made the mistake of not hiring local managers who knew the German market until very late in the game. And of course, McDonalds is doing much better in Europe since they hired a Frenchman as the head of their European division.

  9. Cora - I guess with a percentage of folks here it would be considered a "religious connection" to the flag, but for everyone who feels that way there would seem to be an equal or greater number who are indifferent to it. The rest would fall into the category of having at least a respect for it as a symbol of freedom and America's heritage. To be sure, many businesses, most prominently Wal-Mart, display the flag. What has declined, in my opinion, is personal display of the flag, with the notable exception of the year following the September 11 attacks. When I was a kid in the Chicago area in the 70's we would display our flag for all of the patriotic holidays - Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, etc, a tradition that many families seemed to observe and one I've observed a steep decline in over the years. I travel all over the country for my job and have rarely seen this over the last 20 years or so.

    Having said that, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for W-M to have displayed a foreign flag (the US flag)or even the German flag when it clearly went against local tradition. Must've been symptomatic of their deeper problems in relating to the German consumer.

    I've followed McDonald's closely over the years, and it does seem that the tide of negative reaction to them in Europe has been stemmed. Now I know why. Thanks!