Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Jewel Food Stores in the 1950's

The early and middle years of the 1950’s were in effect the “calm before the storm” for Jewel. Near the end of the 50’s and especially in the 1960’s, Jewel would expand both its business model (adding drug stores, a discount operation and convenience stores, among other things) and its store operating territory (acquiring chains based in New England and the Northwest, along with interests in Europe and Mexico). Throughout the fifties, however, Jewel concentrated on growing its core Chicago market, expanding into the suburbs and upgrading to much larger stores.

In the winter of 1954/5, Jewel opened its new distribution and office complex at 1955 North Avenue in west suburban Melrose Park, Illinois. Large by the standards of time (a 500,000 square feet warehouse and a 52,000 square feet office building), the complex would be expanded many times over the years. Melrose Park would become the new nerve center of the company, due in part to its close proximity to Chicago and much more central location within Jewel’s operating area. Barrington’s Jewel Park, the company’s stomping grounds since 1930 (and at 400,000 square feet no small operation itself) would now house only the route operation offices and manufacturing. Jewel also maintained a produce and meat warehouse on Ashland Avenue in Chicago, which would later be closed down when its operations were moved to Melrose Park. Despite the ownership changes of the last 25 years, Melrose Park remains Jewel’s headquarters today.

The company continued to place a heavy emphasis on self-service in its stores, a practice that Jewel adopted earlier than many other major chains. Jewel’s meat departments, which had been the lone holdouts, were converted to self-service to great fanfare in the early and mid fifties. Jewel took great pains to educate their customers with regard to the convenience and speed benefits of self-service meat, all the while assuring them that their friendly meat managers were on standby to provide them with “those special cuts”.

The photos above show typical Jewel scenes from the fifties – (1) a 1953 storefront (which looks very similar to the Arlington Heights location) replete with banners promoting self-service meats. Not much room for daylight in those windows. (2) a typical new, vaunted self-service meat department, (3) a Jewel entrance featuring an “always open” air-curtain door arrangement, all the rage for a brief period in store construction – this particular store being located at 5140 North Lincoln Avenue, (4) a 1957 photo of a new Jewel store, complete with its masonry pylon under construction (you can see the store it would replace to the far right of the photo) and (5) a new Jewel store, with mirror-image design of that in the previous photo, brand new and open for business in 1955, one of eighteen new stores the company would add that year.


  1. I know that Lincoln Avenue store well. My parents shopped at that Jewel often back in the early 199s before it changed over to Osco and is now a CVS. I always hated that location as a kid because it wasn't as big as the one we would go to sometimes on Howard and Western. Now I want to kick myself of course for paying more attention. But I was twelve. What did I know? Taking a closer look of that background looks just like Lincoln Avenue still does today although the shops have changed. There was even a White Hen a couple of blocks from here.

  2. What was the nearest cross street for the Lincoln Ave. store?

    I'm not good with numbers.

  3. Didi - I would guess that by the 90's the store bore very little resemblance to the 1956 version. Certainly the "air-lock" doors would have been replaced. Correct me it I'm wrong on that.

    Mike - Winona St., with Foster Av. to the north.

  4. You're right, it didn't look anything like it once did when it first opened-LOL! But it was still small which made me mad because the Dominick's on Ridge and the other Jewel on Howard and Western had a bigger book rack than the Lincoln location which was mostly why I hated going there as a kid.

  5. http://dbkundalini.blogspot.com/2009/07/jewel-food-stores-record-1952.html

    Here's a song about the Jewel Food Stores.

  6. Someone told me that in the 60's Jewel's the Jewel Maid was their trademark, can you shed some light on it?

    1. Hi there - yes, Jewel Maid was one of their house brand trademarks for years. In 1977 they dropped it and most of the others in favor of just the Jewel name. I remember it most from their potato chips. Here's a 60's photo that shows a design used well into the 1970's: