A Brief History of Grocery Stores

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How do you like to shop? Did you grow up in the era of supermarkets? Would your grandparents recognize today’s supermarkets and convenience stores?

Probably not.

The original grocery stores sold what are called “dry grocery” items: canned goods and other non-perishable staples. Butchers, bakers, and greengrocers (who sold fresh fruits and vegetables) were separate shops, although they tended to cluster together for the convenience of their customers and their own interactions. This way of shopping continued to be the norm through most of the early twentieth century

But change was in the air!

Chain stores (where customers could expect the same wares, often in the same order, no matter where they shopped) and self-service stores (where customers waited on themselves) were on their way into America’s grocery-shopping experience. While the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) was established early, it’s a chain called Piggly Wiggly that’s credited with expanding the concept geographically. These self-service stores came to be known as “groceterias,” because they resembled nothing so much as they cafeterias—self-service restaurants—that were so popular at the time.

As early at the 1920s, some chain stores began experimenting with consolidated stores that gathered other shops (bakery, deli, butcher, etc.) under one roof. Soon California began what was called the “drive-in market” phenomenon, where several complimentary food retailers (a butcher, a baker, a grocer, and a produce vendor, for example) would locate within the same small shopping center surrounding a parking lot. Customers often perceived these centers as a single entity, despite being under separate ownership, and apparently they liked the concept quite a lot!

In 1930, America’s first real supermarket, King Kullen, opened in New York City. King Kullen most resembled today’s warehouse clubs, with food sold out of packing cartons; volume and a no-frills approach resulted in considerably lower prices, and the concept grew in popularity.

The supermarket, as it came to be known, was initially a phenomenon of independents and small, regional chains. Eventually large chains caught on as well, and they refined the concept, adding a level of sophistication and volume that was previously unknown.

By the 1950s, the transition to supermarkets was largely complete along with a population migration to suburban locations. And so we have the national and regional chains that we all recognize today.

At Bliss Shurfine Food Mart, we bring you the best of the past and the present, of the supermarket and the corner store. We’re a locally owned and operated east coast independent supermarket retailer, offering support for neighborhood events and in-store programs and offers. We bring you the best deals, the freshest foods, staff who have been with us for decades and know our products, and a strong sense of community. Why not stop in and see us today?