Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Famed Dominick's Arch, 1971

Welcome to those who have come here by way of Eric Zorn’s Chicago Tribune column today. This website is a tribute to retail chain stores of the past – mainly supermarkets and discount stores, with a few others (department stores, toy stores, etc.) thrown in just for fun. Some chains are gone altogether. For the ones that remain of course, the stores look radically different today.

My name is Dave, and I grew up in the Chicago area during the Ray Rayner/Family Classics/Svengoolie period (which was somewhere between the Mezozoic and Paleozoic eras, I believe). Many of the chains profiled are from the Chicagoland area and can be found at this link. Extended postings on Korvettes, Sears, Turn-Style and the early history of Jewel are here so far, along with a few Dominick’s tidbits. Also Shoppers World , Kmart and Bargain Town, just for good measure. My travels through the years have led me to a general fascination with retail history across the country, and you will find info on chains from many other regions. If your favorite chain isn’t here yet, hopefully it will be soon.

Regarding the photo above - no, the St. Louis Arch has not sold naming rights – this was the original sign from the Dominick’s distribution center in Northlake, Illinois, shown in a 1971 photo. This sign was a landmark for I-290/294 commuters throughout the sixties and seventies. The facility was originally a Kroger distribution center, and when I was very young the Kroger block letter logo (white letters on individual blue square backgrounds) existed where the Dominick’s logo appears in this photo. The sign was replaced with a more conventional version in the early 1980’s.

Thanks so much for stopping in, and please come back!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Original Big K

Well, Big K, we hardly knew ye, and now you’re leaving us again. That’s right, the many Kmart stores which for some not well-explained reason took on the “Big K Mart” identity in the mid-90’s are being restored (thankfully) back to just “Kmart”, with a logo closer to their original 1960’s look, albeit with a single color, red. And a familiar sight to many Kroger shoppers is their age-old “Big K” private label brand, probably best recognized in recent decades on their soft drinks, but we’ll talk about that later.

Aside from these, however, was a Mid-South based chain by the name of Big K, which enjoyed a good deal of success as a regional discount store operation in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Big K was a division of Nashville-based Kuhn Brothers Company, Inc., which was founded as a variety store chain in the teens. The information I’ve been able to find about the Kuhn stores, which unfortunately is minimal, indicates that that they were very much cast in the standard Woolworth/Kresge variety store mold. As such they faced similar problems as those firms did in the fifties –footprints too small to accommodate a growing range of popular consumer goods, rising operating costs of counter service as opposed to self service, and most importantly the decline of downtown business districts with the advent of shopping centers with their vast availability of free parking.

In 1962, that historic year for the discount industry, Kuhn’s launched the first of their Big K discount department stores. Kuhn’s employed a strategy similar to Wal-Mart, opening the Big K stores in small-to-medium sized towns within a four-state market area – in their case Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. Like Wal-Mart, they avoided the larger markets which were likely to be heavily populated with Kmart stores, as Atlanta most certainly was. Kuhn’s-Big K , as the company was renamed, would eventually adjoin the Wal-Mart market area, but there was very little overlap. The Kuhn family and Sam Walton, who were acquaintances, had chosen (for a time at least) to honor an old unwritten code between regional retailers to stay of each others’ territories. Of course another unwritten code, every bit as popular as the first, was to scrap the previous code and build right in your fellow retailer’s backyard. When Wal-Mart opened a store in Jackson, Tennessee, the heart of Big K-land, The Kuhns retaliated by opening stores in West Helena and Blytheville, Arkansas.

By the end of 1973, the company operated 57 Big K’s and 27 Kuhn’s Variety Stores, and had pushed into eastern Arkansas and Missouri, Wal-Mart’s operating area. The Big K stores carried the standard discount store mix of apparel, sporting goods, hardware, toys, etc., and averaged 45,000 square feet. There were three larger stores (65,000-75,000 square feet) ringing the Nashville area, the company’s home turf. In 1977, Kuhn’s-Big K moved into the South Carolina region with its acquisition of Edwards, Inc., a Charleston-based chain of 33 stores in South Carolina.

Soon after the Edwards purchase, the Kuhn’s - Big K operation spun into decline, losing money and experiencing management turmoil. In 1981, Chain Store Age characterized the company as “a broken chain”, citing increasingly intense competition, the strain from the Edwards acquisition and cost overruns on the company’s fancy new Nashville headquarters complex. The magazine was also critical of the Kuhn family’s management approach. Predictions of Big K’s demise were aflight.

Discussions regarding a possible acquisition by Wal-Mart had begun some months before the Chain Store Age article appeared. Wal-Mart, traditionally committed to internal growth, had only one major acquisition under its belt at the time, having purchased the 21-store Mohr Value chain, an Illinois operation, in 1977. When it became evident that Big K would be forced to sell out, the ideal store sizes (directly in line with Wal-Mart’s at the time), respectable customer base, and most of all the chain’s prime locations in new, adjoining territory made the proposition too powerful to resist. Even so, Wal-Mart’s board of directors was split down the middle over the idea. Sam cast the deciding vote in favor of the buyout, and the deal was done. Incidentally, Wal-Mart’s indecision over the buyout paid another dividend – as they hemmed and hawed over the prospect, the value of Big K’s stock continued to fall. The initial purchase price, according to the Wall Street Journal was $17 million in December 1980. By the following June it was $12.9 million, and by the time of the actual buyout in December 1981, it was $7 million - $2 million less than Kuhn’s -Big K had paid for the Edwards chain four years earlier. Sort of gives a new, unwanted meaning to the word “discount”.

The first photo, location unknown, is from 1973. The second and third photos are from the Dickson, Tennessee store and were taken the following year.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wal-Mart Expands the "Magic Circle"

If Sam Walton harbored dreams of empire during Wal-Mart’s early years, he did a good job of keeping it to himself. That’s not to say he wasn’t interested in growth – he most certainly was, as is clearly evidenced throughout his autobiography. In Wal-Mart’s first decade and beyond though, the company flew under the radar, expanding slowly within the area that Walton called the “magic circle” – northern Arkansas, southern Missouri, southeastern Kansas and eastern Oklahoma. A typical retailer with a home base in northwest Arkansas could have reasonably been expected to try to plant their flag in Kansas City or St. Louis soon after their first flush of success, but Walton did not and wouldn’t for many years. In 1967, five years after the company’s founding, there were 18 Wal-Marts. By comparison Kmart, another retailer celebrating the five-year mark that year, had 250 stores.

Walton was much more interested in “growing internally”, saturating existing markets to create dominance. New markets were added incrementally, and only in areas that adjoined existing ones, to maximize efficiency. An early sign that this strategy was paying off came in the mid-70’s, as Kmart began to open stores within Wal-Mart’s market area. Until around 1974, Kmart rarely entered cities with a population below 50,000. At that point, they introduced a smaller store format and began to roll it out in various parts of the country. When Kmart entered such Wal-Mart strongholds as Springfield, Missouri and Hot Springs, Arkansas, Wal-Mart creamed them. It was a sign of things to come, on a much larger scale, in the coming decades.

Most importantly, Walton sought to improve the stores. As mentioned in the previous post, he relentlessly pursued competitive intelligence, trying to learn from the good and bad things chains across the country were doing. Conversely, he spent a great deal of time in the Wal-Mart stores, quizzing employees in his friendly but pointed manner, digging deeper if he sensed there was a problem. Walton practiced “management by walking around” long before Tom Peters and Robert Waterman made the phrase famous in the bestselling book “In Search of Excellence”.
At the close of 1970, Wal-Mart had 38 stores and $44 million in sales. Up to this point, a great deal of the financing had come from Sam Walton’s own family, leaving him $2 million in debt by that time. Reluctant to take on the scrutiny and hassles of going public, but weighed down by the heavy debt load and the realization that a stock offering was the only feasible way to keep expanding the company, Walton took the company public in October, 1970. In the space of one day, Sam was out of debt and would never have to personally contribute another dime to Wal-Mart’s expansion. The stock sold out immediately, and of course a major expansion ramp-up was to come. By 1974, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi had received their first Wal-Mart stores.
Then Sam, age 56 at the time, did something that is not well-remembered today and in retrospect seems more than a little surprising. In November 1974, he resigned as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Wal-Mart and turned the reins of the company over to a younger man.

The new Wal-Mart chief was 40-year old Ron Mayer, a former Duckwall-ALCO executive who more recently was a Wal-Mart vice president, instrumental in setting up the first version of Wal-Mart’s vaunted computer infrastructure. Walton moved over into a new position, chairman of the executive committee, an oversight position in most companies. He even gave up his office to Mr. Mayer, moving down the hall and out of the way. Had things remained as they were, Sam would have had plenty of time to perfect his tennis game and bird hunting skills, and Wal-Mart would have probably become a decent-size regional player, and probably an eventual acquisition candidate for the likes of Kmart or Target, no offense to Mayer intended.

The vigorous Walton, try as he might, learned quickly that standing on the sidelines was not something he could do. In June 1976, Mayer stepped aside and Walton reassumed leadership of the company. Sam was frank when interviewed about it by the Wall Street Journal –Mayer had left “because I wasn’t able to assume a passive role… I wasn’t about to force myself to stay out” of the company’s decision process. Walton offered Mayer a vice chairmanship, but he declined and chose to leave the company instead. The founder was now back in charge. By the end of 1979, Wal-Mart had 278 stores, over a billion dollars in sales, and operated in 11 states. The magic circle was growing.

The photos above are from 1976, 1978 and 1979 respectively. These pictures remind me of the very first Wal-Mart store I ever laid eyes upon, around 1976, years before I (and much of America) learned of the company’s famous founder. In the early 70’s, my stepfather bought a small farm in rural west Tennessee. It was a rustic place, with a creaky old farmhouse without air conditioning. We’d spend about three weeks there every summer, and many years we would drive down the day after Christmas and spend the rest of our Christmas break there, trying to keep the pipes from freezing. The summers were definitely a shock to the system of this 12-year old Chicagoan, used to spending my vacations lying around the house, watching reruns of Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. Now I was digging postholes and sweating like I never had in my life. (Fresh Air! Bah. Of course now I look back at it as great experience, naturally.) The Wal-Mart location was in Martin, Tennessee, a college town, and was Wal-Mart’s third or fourth store in the state. I clearly remember thinking that it had to be the single store of a family-owned business. Regrettably, we never set foot in the place, and it would be years before I would experience the wonder of Wal-Mart.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Influencing Wal-Mart

The one aspect of the Wal-Mart story that I find most fascinating was Sam Walton’s study of the discount store industry, in the years both before and after the launch of his namesake chain. In his autobiography, Walton describes his adventures visiting discount stores all over America. “I ran the country, studying the discounting concept, visiting every store and company headquarters I could find”, he wrote. Starting in the New England area, which was in many ways the birthplace of the concept , Walton worked his way from coast to coast.

Most often, due to Walton’s humble, disarming approach (“Hi, I’m Sam Walton from Bentonville, Arkansas. We’ve got a few stores out there, and I’d like to visit with Mr. So-and-So” – whoever the head of the company was- “about his business”)and the lack of any perceived competitive threat (which of course was the case at the time), discount chain presidents everywhere were all too happy to escort Sam on a tour, showing off their empires. It was a chance to impress a small-time operator from the sticks.

Walton accurately describes the make-up of the industry at the time as largely composed of “promoter” types – wholesalers or real estate promoters with little interest in the merchandising business who saw an opportunity to strike it rich. “They would take a carbon copy of somebody’s store in Connecticut or Boston, hire some buyers and some supervisors who were supposed to know the business, and start opening up stores. From about 1958 to 1970, it was phenomenally successful”.

The frugal Walton took note of the lifestyles of the discount chiefs, many of whom lived like Roman emperors – private jets, Cadillacs, cadres of servants and so on, living off the "discounting fad" while ignoring the condition of their stores and the quality and attitude of their customer service. Many of them just became lazy, unaware while their businesses slowly deteriorated. By the beginning of the 1990’s, as Walton pointed out referencing a then recent trade magazine article, 76 of the top 100 American discount stores that were in business in 1976 no longer existed. Of course, in the 16 years since Walton’s passing, the remaining count of 24 has been severely pared down as well.

Aside from these “good examples of bad examples”, as Sam might have put it, there were some individuals for whom he developed great respect - John Geisse, who played a key role in the founding of Target and Venture was one, but at the top of Walton’s list were Harry Cunningham, former S.S. Kresge president and father of Kmart, and Sol Price, the founder of Fed-Mart and Price Club.

It’s highly likely that had Kmart not existed, Wal-Mart couldn’t have. Walton, an ardent admirer of the (early, at least) Kmart merchandising style, considered Kmart his “laboratory” and claimed to have visited more Kmart stores than anyone, even while on vacation, as his wife Helen, as quoted in Robert Slater’s The Wal-Mart Triumph attested: “Sam never went by a Kmart that he didn’t stop by and look at it”. In time, Walton gained Cunningham’s respect as well. Long after his 1972 retirement from Kresge, in what certainly ends up sounding like a backhanded slap at his old company, Cunningham was quoted in Sam’s 1992 autobiography – “From the time anybody first noticed Sam, it was obvious he had adopted all of the original Kmart ideas. I always had great admiration for the way he implemented – and later enlarged on – those ideas. Much later on, when I was retired but still a Kmart board member, I tried to advise the company’s management of just what a serious threat I thought he was. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that they took him seriously”.

Sol Price, one of the best known early proponents of the “warehouse store” concept, was a huge influence on Walton in a couple of key areas. Price, still kicking at age 92, founded Fed-Mart in 1954 as a membership warehouse store in San Diego. Eventually, Fed-Mart would grow to a 45-store chain with locations in California, Arizona and Texas. Price sold the chain to a German firm in 1975 and with his son Robert founded The Price Company, another warehouse store operation whose stores went under the name of Price Club, the following year. In 1993, he would merge his company with Costco.

For starters, Sam liked the sound of the name “Fed-Mart”, a fact often cited among the stories about the origin of the Wal-Mart name. To be sure, however, Price’s most notable influence on Walton was in regard to the warehouse store concept itself. In 1983, some months following a dinner with Price and their wives in San Diego, Wal-Mart launched its first Sam’s Wholesale Club in Oklahoma City. Despite this new competitive relationship, the two men maintained a warm personal friendship, as evidenced (and possibly tested) by a story Walton related in his book. Sam, on one of his competitive store visits, browsed the Price Club store on Morena Avenue in San Diego, tape recorder in hand, noting prices and other details about the store. Stopped by a security guard who demanded the tape, Walton obliged, asking to write a note to Robert Price about the tape, which also contained observations from other area stores. A few days later, Walton received the tape in the mail, none of it erased, accompanied by a friendly note from Price. Now, that's a friend!

The photos above are circa 1972.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What Sam Walton Knew

For many years following World War II, the most famous individual in American retail was arguably James Cash Penney. Founder of the famous chain that bore his name, Mr. Penney was active in the company into his nineties, passing away at age 95 in 1971. In 1950, he published a best-selling autobiography, Fifty Years with the Golden Rule, which shed light on his life, Christian faith, and principles for running a business. Since the mid-1980’s, in a point that’s certainly beyond argument, the “most famous” distinction most assuredly belongs to Sam Moore Walton, founder of Wal-Mart. Ironically, the two men met early in Walton’s career.

Sam Walton, Born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma in 1918, decided on a career in retail early on. After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1940, he took a job as a trainee at a J.C. Penney store in Des Moines, Iowa. Robert Slater, in his book The Wal-Mart Decade (later renamed The Wal-Mart Triumph) relates a story in which Mr. Penney, on a tour of his Midwest area stores, stopped by the Des Moines store. During his visit, J.C. taught Sam how to wrap a package using the least amount of materials that would still allow the package to look attractive. Whatever else they discussed is lost to history, but I think it’s safe to say at a minimum that the young Walton walked away with some inspiration as a result of Penney's common touch, a reinforcement of his already strong sense of thrift, and most importantly an awareness of the importance of visiting the stores, something that would later become his trademark .

After a stint in the U.S. Army Intelligence Office during World War II, with borrowed money from his in-laws, Walton opened his first retail operation, buying out a poor-performing Ben Franklin store in Newport, Arkansas in September, 1945. Ben Franklin was a franchise operation based in Chicago and owned by Butler Brothers, a wholesale operation that was founded in 1877. Butler opened the first Ben Franklin variety store in 1927.

Butler exercised a great amount of control over its Ben Franklin franchisees, dictating merchandise to be stocked, merchandise sources and prices to be charged from on high. Walton, who within a few short years transformed the Newport store into the top performer in the state, chafed under Butler’s restrictive approach. Possessed of an unusual level of street smarts and a great deal of curiosity, traits that led him to examine competitors’ operations very closely, Walton soon began to develop his own retail approach - one that over time grew increasingly at odds with the Ben Franklin hierarchy.

Forced to part with the Newport store when his lease expired, Walton and his family settled in the tiny Northwest Arkansas town of Bentonville, where he opened a Ben Franklin franchise under his own name, Walton’s 5 and 10-cent store, in early 1951. Joined by his younger brother, James L. (Bud) Walton, the pair would open 16 more Ben Franklin stores over the next eleven years. The Walton 5 and 10 cent stores gave way to self-service “Walton Family Centers”, larger stores that carried a wider selection of merchandise. The stores were located primarily in Arkansas and Missouri, with a couple of units in Kansas. Walton proved to be a natural at merchandising, and by this point he was eager to introduce a new concept to his basically rural market.

Sam Walton knew that a huge opportunity existed in underserved small town markets such as the one in which his company was located, an opportunity to do business on a much larger scale than the antiquated variety store format would allow. He had read about the discounting trend that was taking root in other parts of the country, especially in the Northeast – Zayre, Two Guys , Arlan’s, Ann and Hope and Mammoth Mart, among others. In California, Sol Price had started up Fed-Mart. And of course, there was action in the Midwest, as plans for S.S. Kresge’s Kmart program began to leak out.

Walton approached Butler Brothers with his plans to build a discount store in hopes that they would be willing to partner with him on the new venture. Since his firm had a long standing relationship with Butler, he was their largest Ben Franklin franchisee, and he really didn’t want to have to set up his own merchandising and supply chain infrastructure, Walton made a pitch to Butler brass in Chicago, in an attempt to convince them a partnership would be in both of their companies’ best interests. They turned him down flat. Even two years later, after the first Wal-Marts had been launched, Sam offered his concept to Butler to franchise to their other small-market operators, and again he was spurned. Looking back, it’s staggering to fathom what those two decisions cost the Butler/Ben Franklin organization over the course of the following decades. No more offers from Sam Walton would be forthcoming.

On July 2, 1962, in the the same year that S.S. Kresge launched Kmart, who would rule the retail roost for a very long time to come, F.W. Woolworth launched the (now long gone) Woolco in an effort to stay relevant and The Dayton Company launched Target, a tiny seed of a discount operation that wouldn’t reach full flower until much, much later, Sam and Bud Walton opened the first Wal-Mart Discount City in Rogers, Arkansas.

Both Slater’s book and Sam Walton’s autobiography, Made in America (required reading, to my mind, along with Lee Iacocca’s autobiography for late 20th century business buffs) recount an interesting story that took place on the new store’s opening day. A contingent of Ben Franklin executives from Chicago showed up, asking to see Mr. Walton. They proceeded to the office at the back of the store, saying nothing along the way. Meeting in Walton’s office, they issued an ultimatum: “Don’t build any more of these Wal-Mart stores”, then left, without another word, in a huff. Wisely, he completely blew off their ultimatum.

Over the next four years, four more Wal-Mart Discount Cities were opened – in Siloam Springs, Springdale, Harrison (1 hour south of future tourist magnet Branson, Missouri) and Conway, Arkansas. Wal-Mart was on its way.

The photos above, with the exception of the sign photo, which is a bit newer, are circa 1971 and show views of various store departments. From the seventh photo, one can assume that stripes were definitely in that year. The last photo shows “Mr. Sam”, as he was affectionately called, doing what he loved to do – grabbing a store’s P.A. microphone and thanking customers for shopping at Wal-Mart.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A New Logo for Wal-Mart!

I don’t make a habit of reacting to current retail news on this site, but over the last week or so, it’s been hard to escape the coverage of Wal-Mart’s (er, excuse me, Walmart’s) new logo. The storefront in this 1977 photo shows the “frontier” style logo the company used until the early 1980’s. By the time most Americans became familiar with Walmart, it had been phased out for some years.

Opinions as to the relative merits and effects of Walmart are strong on all sides, and that’s a discussion I’d very much prefer to leave up to other websites. I thought it would be fun, however, to take a brief detour over the next couple of posts and have a look at the company’s early history, when they had just a few stores in a handful of states. Long before Walmart became the world’s largest company, the world’s largest retailer, or even a nationwide retailer. Before their “little town blues” melted away…before they were A-number one…King of the hill…Top of the list…A-number one…ok, I’ve gotta stop listening to Sinatra when writing these posts…

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Last Spin of the Turn-Style

The mid/late-1970’s proved to be the Waterloo of a number of discount retail chains with a significant presence in Chicago. The late George Lazarus, longtime business writer for the Chicago Tribune, listed the recent casualties in a 1978 editorial – Topps (Interstate Stores), Korvettes, W.T. Grant and Robert Hall Village. In short order, Jewel-owned Turn-Style would be added to the list.

Turn-Style’s profitable run at the end of the sixties and the dawn of the seventies brought about an acceleration, however mild, of the Family Center program, where the chain grew from a couple of area stores to thirteen by 1976. The last Chicago Turn-Style stores were opened in conjunction with a new Jewel concept – the Jewel Grand Bazaar, a larger (60,000-plus square feet) supermarket format that enjoyed great success in its early years. Loosely based on the European “hypermarkets”, these stores combined the feel of an open air market with huge bulk displays of product. Jewel, widely credited with marketing the country’s first “generic” supermarket product line (in 1977), used the Grand Bazaar stores for its launch. Three Grand Bazaar locations that adjoined some of the final Turn-Style stores were located at 54th Street and Pulaski Road, 87th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway, and at Grand and Kostner Avenues. In 1974, Turn-Style’s president, Bill Lewis, was reassigned by Jewel to head up a new group, charged with developing a "real" hypermarket for Jewel. It was to include a discount department store, pharmacy and food store under one (very large -200,000 sq. ft.) roof, in what could have been a more upscale precursor to today’s Wal-Mart Supercenters. Sadly, this never materialized.

Turn-Style, which as Lazarus put it, “(had) never been a winner for Jewel” at least held its own into the mid-70’s, but things went downhill quickly from there. In 1975, Turn-Style lost its independent division status and was placed under the Osco group, along with the very successful Osco Drug stores and Jewel’s hapless, soon to be jettisoned Republic Lumber stores.

In 1978, there were 24 Zayre stores and 38 Kmart (who had just snapped up two Korvettes and two Robert Hall Village locations) stores in operation in the greater Chicago area, huge footprints (and a correspondingly huge advertising advantage) in contrast with Turn-Style, which was standing still after all those years with only 13 area units, incomplete market coverage and far less than ideal advertising utilization.

When May Department Stores, Inc., with its growing Venture stores division came calling, Jewel was receptive. On March 7, 1978 it was announced that Jewel would sell 22 Turn-Styles to May for conversion into Venture stores, including locations in Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Ten of the 13 Chicago stores were included, with the other three – Harlem-Foster, Niles and Westmont retained by Jewel for eventual conversion to larger Jewel-Osco units. The handful of Boston units went to various tenants, including Zayre.

The top photo, from 1975, shows the 87th and Dan Ryan Expressway Turn-Style/Osco Drug/Jewel Grand Bazaar location. The second photo shows the Quincy, Massachusetts location, originally opened in 1966 and remodeled ten years later, in a photo taken shortly thereafter. The photo gives a nice look at Jewel’s New England family – Star Market, Brigham’s Ice Cream Shop, Osco Drug and Turn-Style. The only name missing, for obvious reasons, is a White Hen Pantry convenience store. The last photo shows one of the last Turn-Styles, the location of which I’m not sure of.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Happy (Day After) the 4th of July!

Hope that everyone had a great Independence Day! Now that the parades and fireworks are over, some of you may be tackling household projects today, like painting. And there’s no better place to buy the paint than…do I even have to say it?

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Pleasant Family Shopping. (This website, that is, not the actual practice itself.) Thanks so much to everyone for your support and continued readership!


Friday, July 4, 2008


After moving to quickly establish the first new Turnstyle West (technically it was the midwest) region stores upon buying out the company in 1962, Jewel proceeded much more slowly through the rest of the sixties. Having opened the Racine, Skokie and Harlem-Foster stores, two more Turnstyles would open in 1963, both of them in the Quad Cities – Moline, Illinois in May and Davenport, Iowa, in August. They would be the last new midwest Turnstyles for four years, when a “mini-Turnstyle” (35,000 sq. feet) was opened in Bettendorf, Iowa in 1967.

In 1964 the original Lynn, Massachusetts store, an outdated unit of only 45,000 square feet, was closed. The following February a brand-new 100,000 square foot Turnstyle opened in Quincy, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb. This was part of a Jewel-owned “Family Center” and also included a Star Market and a Brigham’s. Brigham’s was a well-known Boston area chain of ice cream/sandwich/bakery shops that Jewel acquired as part of the Star Market transaction a year earlier. Brigham’s owned a baking division called Dorothy Muriel’s that eventually supplied baked goods to the Star Markets (I can still taste those great corn muffins from my childhood trips up there!). Things remained fairly quiet on the Turnstyle East front as well, with the only real action being the conversion of two Star Home Centers to Turnstyle stores, in Waltham, Mass. in 1966 and Franklin, Mass. the following year.

From a business standpoint, the early years of Jewel’s Turnstyle ownership were very difficult, with fairly substantial operating losses. In retrospect, it’s hard to say whether or not Jewel held off opening more Turnstyle stores in their key market, the Chicago area (where Turnstyle had barely scratched the surface) in order to refine the concept. It had to have taken longer than they planned.

In any event, their act was together by 1968 when a new Turn-Style (the name was hyphenated by this time) / Jewel Family Center opened in the North Point Shopping Center on Rand Road in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a bustling northwest suburban town. The following year, a new store opened in west suburban Glendale Heights. That year, 1969, marked a major turnaround for Turn-Style with all of the chain’s 13 stores operating at a profit.

In November 1971, two Turn-Style / Jewel Family Centers opened on the same day. One was in Schaumburg, Illinois, at the intersection of Golf and Meacham Roads, near the colossal new Woodfield Mall. This store is the one I remember shopping at the most. The other store was in the new “Jewel Village” Shopping Center in west suburban Westmont, Illinois, at the corner of Ogden and Cass Avenues. The Westmont store was located in a Jewel-owned shopping center that was unique in that it was used for a “proving ground” for some new Jewel retail concepts – “Case n’ Bottle” liquor stores, Village Fashions and a fabric/craft shop called “Stitch n’ Knit”. These didn’t end up flying as standalone concepts, although the liquor store idea was later folded into some Jewel stores.

In 1972, Jewel began to roll Turn-Style stores out to other areas, notably the Eisner territory, which was located in Central Illinois and Western Indiana, and had recently been extended to Indianapolis. They even opened some Family Centers in conjunction with non-Jewel supermarkets, pairing up two Omaha Turn-Styles, one with a Bakers supermarket, the other with a Hinky-Dinky.

The next year, Jewel tried its hand at the catalog showroom business. “Intrigued by (that) $2 billion business”, as they officially put it, the decision was made to open a catalog showroom area within five existing Chicago area Turn-Styles, which would be redubbed “Turn-Style Plus” stores. Deerfield, Niles, Arlington Heights, Schaumburg and Chicago (Grand and Kostner Avenues) were the “Plus” stores, each store setting aside an 8,000 selling floor and 15,000 of warehouse space to accommodate the venture. A 350-plus page Turn-Style Plus catalog was published for customers to use to make their buying decisions at home, call in an order (or write one up onsite) then flee to the store to pick it up. The catalog showroom concept was gaining popularity across the US at the time, with companies such as Service Merchandise and Best Products enjoying tremendous growth. The major catalog players in the Chicago area at the time were Bennett Brothers (still in business) and McDade and Company (now gone). The venture was not a success, and only a year later Jewel referred to it as an “experiment”.

The photos above are from the early 1970’s, that golden era of white wine, ferns, and brown mansard-roofed discount (and grocery) stores. The first shows the Jewel Village location in Westmont, Illinois, the second a Turn-Style / Eisner Family Center in Indianapolis, with a mile-long Olds Custom Cruiser in the foreground. The third photo is an unidentified Family Center and the last is of one of the five Turn-Style Plus stores.

And for more Turn-Stylin’, check out John Gallo’s new site, Stores Forever. John has been a longtime contributor to number of the old retail fansites, and has now started one of his own. John had the foresight to photograph many stores in his native Racine, Wisconsin/North Suburban Chicago areas in the 70’s and 80’s. His current post features a great shot of the Racine Turn-Style store as remodeled in the early 70’s, when the former Jewel had been converted to a “Big E” warehouse food store, a short-lived Jewel no-frills concept that fell under the Eisner wing. John has some great ShopKo stuff on there as well.