Page 1 of 1

Color photo of Northville, MI Kroger in the 1950s

Posted: 06 Sep 2016 23:08
by Andrew T.
While rummaging through some loose slides at my grandfather's house, I found this image of a procession walking past the Kroger store in Northville, Michigan, possibly on Memorial Day:
This picture would have been taken facing east on East Main Street, and by my estimate it dates to around 1954. Neither the Kroger nor any of the other houses or buildings visible in the picture survive today: Northville is an affluent city, and whatever doesn't get preserved there gets discarded with extreme prejudice.

Re: Color photo of Northville, MI Kroger in the 1950s

Posted: 06 Sep 2016 23:32
by Andrew T.
As a postscript, the store in the slide was replaced by a new Kroger at 133 E. Dunlap Street in October 1961. (PDF with grand opening ad here.) This new store lasted at least until the 1970s, and the building eventually housed an Arbor Drugs and CVS drugstore before being demolished and replaced around 2008.
Kroger departed from Northville city limits whenever it vacated the Dunlap Street store, but returned last year when it bought out the local Hiller's chain and assimilated its stores.

That's my understanding of the historical record, anyway...

Re: Color photo of Northville, MI Kroger in the 1950s

Posted: 04 Mar 2019 12:10
by Andrew T.
And, another postscript...

The archives of Northville's local weekly newspaper are online. Because of this, I've dug up quite a bit of interesting and surprising information about this location!

The Kroger store upthread was located at 215 E. Main St, and it opened its doors on August 29, 1951. Kroger's grand opening advertising emphasized a novel canned-good dispensing system that they called a "Food-O-Mat."
kroger51b.jpg (23.71 KiB) Viewed 3694 times
The first surprise, though? The building wasn't originally constructed as a Kroger store. The building originally opened in October 1946 as a farm supply store and equipment dealer run by Roger Christensen, then sold to Wallace Westerfield in 1949. A retrospective newspaper article from 1976 explains the situation:
Northville Record, Oct. 20, 1976 wrote: The 60 x 126 foot building was constructed in 1946 by Roger Christensen of Novi who operated a Case Farm Implement dealership in it for three years. He had purchased the then vacant property from the Ford Motor Company.
Christensen sold the implement dealership, which continued to occupy the building for two years until the business was dissolved. Christensen then had the building remodeled for the Kroger Company which occupied it for the next 10 years.

Re: Color photo of Northville, MI Kroger in the 1950s

Posted: 04 Mar 2019 12:37
by Andrew T.
The 215 E. Main St. Kroger location lasted ten years before being replaced by a "fine, new store" on October 24, 1961. This certainly wasn't the end of the old building's operational life, however.
Two months before it had even closed as Kroger, plans were drawn up to extensively remodel the property and lease it to A&P (as a replacement for a pre-existing downtown storefront location). Once again, the newspaper explains:
Northville Record, Aug. 10, 1961 wrote:
A&P Tells New Store Plans

By late fall Northville will have two new supermarkets within the boundaries of its central business district.

Announcement of the relocation of A & P was made this week by E. J. Vogel, vice president.

The announcement stated that "the building at 215 East Main street at the corner of Hutton in Northville has been leased to A & P Food Stores and will be put into operation after extensive remodeling".

The building, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Roger Christensen of Northville, is now occupied by the Kroger company.
Plans call for extensive face-lifting, and new paved parking facilities for 60 cars at the new A & P site.
Included in the remodeling program will be a completely rebuilt front, converting it to A & P's distinctive pace-setting Early American design, which has received nation-wide attention during the past few years.
It seems unusual for one supermarket chain's store to be transferred to their arch-rival without skipping a beat...but since Kroger merely leased this building from its local owner (and hadn't put a non-compete clause in the lease), there was nothing they could do to stop this!

The other interesting take-away is that Roger Christensen continued to own the property itself for many, many years after his farm implement business (which originally occupied the site) was sold.

Re: Color photo of Northville, MI Kroger in the 1950s

Posted: 04 Mar 2019 12:46
by Andrew T.
So in summary, a former Kroger store that wasn't originally even built as a supermarket was remodelled into a Frankenstein-like A&P Centennial store; complete with a gable and trim, but no full-width peaked roof. The frontal remodelling was extensive, and even involved the relocation of the entrance from one corner of the building to another.

Here is the grand opening ad from 1961, along with an actual photograph from the night before:

Re: Color photo of Northville, MI Kroger in the 1950s

Posted: 04 Mar 2019 12:59
by Andrew T.
The next chapter of the story: October 1972. After 11 years of operation in their Frankenstein store, A&P closes up shop. Unlike in 1961, however, there was no seamless transition of operations from one chain to another. In fact, the closure resulted in the departure of A&P from the city entirely, not to return until a brand-new shopping-centre location at 42475 W. Seven Mile Road opened in February 1976 more than three years later.
Northville Record, Oct. 19, 1972 wrote: No official reason for the closing of its store here has been given by A & P, and officials declined to discuss the closing.
No reason may have been given, but Chatham had opened a modern supermarket a stone's throw away in Northville a few months before...and they ate both A&P's and Kroger's lunch.

Judging by this 1972 pre-closing photo, the store was not remodeled or changed at all during A&P's period of operation. No surprise there:

Re: Color photo of Northville, MI Kroger in the 1950s

Posted: 04 Mar 2019 13:31
by Andrew T.
So, what happened to the building at 215 E. Main after A&P moved out in 1972? It was promptly reoccupied by Stone's Decorating Center, a local "unfinished furniture" store.

Now, storing hundreds of pieces of highly-flammable "unfinished" wooden furniture in a primitive 1940s building with three decades' worth of ad-hoc Frankenstein remodellings and wiring splices might not have been the brightest of ideas. Sure enough, a fire broke out in the early hours of October 18, 1976, consuming and completely destroying the structure:
Northville Record, Oct. 20, 1976 wrote: Within minutes of their arrival, firemen watched as the front windows blew out sending flying glass into the street. Then the east wall of the large masonry building collapsed scattering debris across the parking lot.
Completely stocked with unfinished furniture and equipment, the fire raged on throughout the night. Firemen were still on duty at noon pouring gallons of water on the smouldering mass. Efforts were hampered somewhat by large amounts of tar on the roof feeding small embers buried under the rubble. A crane was ordered to demolish the still standing but dangerous west wall before it crumpled onto Hutton Street.
The building contained more than the usual amount of equipment and merchandise because Boshoven and Twomey said they were "buying two of everything" in preparation for the opening of a second store in Warren in early November. They still plan to open that store on schedule.
So, that's how this store ended: Up in smoke! A picture of the fire was printed in the Northville newspaper soon after the incident, and it shows that the A&P Colonial exterior and sign were retained on the building to its fiery end: