Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

The floors are washed and waxed, the checkout lanes fully stocked with paper bags, and the cash registers are loaded with change and crisp new bills. We’re ready to launch a new year of Pleasant Family Shopping, a look at the everyday places that make up a surprising share of our youthful memories, in part because we spent so darn much time at them! I’m referring to the chain stores – the supermarkets and discount stores, and the shopping centers and malls that our parents dragged us to as kids. The places we took so much pride in driving to when we finally got our own license and wheels. The places where many of us held our first jobs, made lifelong friends and even met future spouses.

One doesn’t have to be very old to notice how much these places have changed over the years. If you’re over 25, you’ve already seen a good number of household names come and go, and for those of us over 40, the current retail scene is a universe apart from that of our youth. Over time, as the extent of these changes has sunk in and life has become more complicated in so many ways, it’s amazing how nostalgic many of us have become about them, to the point where our “shopping memories” are seemingly right up there alongside the dream vacations, Disney trips and other highlights we may have experienced in years past.

Fortunately, many of these places were photographed in their prime, and it’s the goal of this website to present them as they were, along with the sometimes surprising, often frustrating, but almost always interesting history behind the great American retail firms from which these stores sprang. Your own memories are an extremely vital part of things here – they truly complete the picture, and I want to express my deepest thanks to those of you who continue to share them with the rest of us through your comments.

The photo above shows the checkout area of a Food Fair supermarket, as depicted in a 1962 ad for Kentile Floors, a long-defunct manufacturer of asbestos tile flooring, strangely memorialized by identical neon signs that still stand in Brooklyn and Chicago. I love the pattern of the tile floor in relation to the checkstands, almost a “starting block and running lane” pattern. (Had food been this closely involved, I might have gone out for track-and-field in high school.) The store’s pastel colors and the style of cash registers lead me to believe that the store may have been a few years old at the time this photo was taken, and that the tile flooring was a new upgrade, although I'm not certain of that. Also, note the one-line marquee on the back wall, a very common feature of 1950’s-era Food Fair stores that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere. Ordinarily it would to be used to promote a store special of some type.

Of course, today at least, it would have read “Happy New Year!” The best to you and yours for 2011!


  1. Happy New Year to you and your family. All the best, Richard.

  2. Hooray! My New Year's Day was made not by the Badgers being in the Rose Bowl, but by a blog post from you! :D I look forward to every post and this was a nice way to start of 2011!! All the best to you and yours in the coming year, and I anticipate many fun posts ahead! :D

  3. Happy New Year, Dave! I can't wait for all of the great posts that you manage to put together in your "spare time." Thanks for all that you do for the PFS readers!

  4. Ooh, how can I get a floor like that in my kitchen with similar color schemes?

    Happy New Year, Dave!

  5. Yeah, the experience today may be a world apart from the '70s and even '80s when I have pleasant memories of grocery shopping. But I do still like supermarkets, even if they've become more utilitarian places. At least they're still around. I always smile inwardly when pushing my cart around the aisle, thinking of shopping expeditions of the past.

  6. Ahh, yes the memories of the parents loading up the station wagon with the kids and trekking out to the mass merchandiser, discounter, or ribbon cutting of the newest "air conditioned for your pleasure" mall!! Hats off to you Dave, I am always intrigued and pleasantly reminded of my retail past with your brilliant posts-- Happy 2011 to you and all who have contributed to your "Chronicle of History"!!

  7. I'd love to see more coverage of some of my favorite stores (at least, most familiar).

    Wal-Mart/Hypermart USA (early 1990s perhaps, though the 1980s ones were good)
    bigg's (now defunct)
    Auchan (Houston and Chicago, Houston mostly)
    Weingarten's (defunct Houston-era supermarket)
    Kroger (last but not least...I want to see the Greenhouse era next, which followed Superstore)

  8. Richard – Thanks, and I’m looking forward to the Viewliner’s travels this year!

    Mel – Thanks very much, I’m blushing! Congrats on the Badgers making the Rose Bowl – what a game - sorry they got edged out, but I’m hoping (and this is coming from a Bears fan) that the Packers win helped make up for it!

    Adrienne – Just need a bit more spare time! Thanks so much and Happy New Year to you!

    Didi – The “Kentile Floors” sign is still there, but I think they’re closed! Maybe at Menards? ;)

    Best to you for the new year!

    Nightdragon – I feel the same way - must be an ingrained fondness for grocery shopping, based on good memories. I never mind doing it, which is a good thing since my wife is always sending me there to pick up this or that! :)

    Steve – And the same to you, thanks!

    Mr Bluelight – Very much appreciated, and a Happy 2011 to you as well! I always appreciate what you have to say.

    Pseudo3D – Some worthy names in that list, particularly Weingarten’s. I need to do a “greenhouse” post, but vintage pics of those are surprisingly hard to find. You never know, though. Happy New Year!

  9. I've been trying to figure out how the checkouts in the photo work! The cash registers appear to be on the "wrong" side from the way most checkouts work. Looks like maybe the cart pushed through on the dark tile area (like a Spee-Dee turntable checkout) while the customer walked through on the light tile area, and the cashier is on the customer side!

  10. Nightdragon - I've become more and more aware of how neat supermarkets really are: the only grocery shopping comes from a huge H-E-B, the dumpier Kroger (formerly a "Greenhouse"), and the mediocre Walmart.

    Weingarten's, Safeway, Randalls, Fed-Mart...all once here, but have since moved on.

  11. Great choices, Pseudo3D, especially Auchan; the evolution of hypermarkets in the USA is fascinating. And it continues to evolve, what with Target's decision to forsake Greatland and SuperTarget in favor of its PFresh format and Walmart's experimentation with smaller footprints as opposed to relying more or less exclusively on Supercenters for its growth vehicle.

    And with today's sad news in New England, perhaps a look at Shaw's would be timely. Or maybe we should stick to celebrating Market Basket and Wegmans' good fortunes!

  12. Happy new year Dave, I read some of the other posts and I would be interested in seeing a post on the following: TG&Y, Cooks Consolidated stores, and a regional store called Rinks that was in ohio(It became part of Consolidated). I know you did a post on Meijer, but I would love to see one on Twin fair that Meijer bought out. All the best in the coming year to you and your family Dave!

  13. Also, if you were do another Kmart post, I'd really like to see an American Fare interior! Thanks!

  14. Here's three more I'd like to see.

    First off, SERVICE MERCHANDISE. Yes, I used to see them all up and down 290, 610, and I-45 on trips to Galveston before they started to go out of business en masse circa 1999. I did see a lit sign (featuring their last logo) in 2003, a year after they went out of business forever.

    Secondly, AMES. Ames seems like a story: it was older than any existing department store, but acquired too fast, leaving hundreds of poorly-managed, out-of-date stores. It never capitalized on, say, having a full supermarket inside (such as Target, Kmart, and Wal-Mart).

    Thirdly, hometown favorite H-E-B. Like Target, older stores are being repainted and remodeled, but some specimens exist (apparently, the one in Marlin, Texas is quite old...check it out on Google Street View). I'd like to see it on the site.