Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

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Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 20 Jun 2018 20:43

I lived in Madison, Wisconsin from 2012 to 2017. I had a dispassionate and tortured relationship with the city, and never mustered up the enthusiasm to do much local history research while I was there. I hate to leave a place undocumented, however...so here's a CSV that may be of interest for the site: Madison Chain Grocery/Supermarket Locations, 1921-1985.

From a supermarket standpoint, Madison is interesting. Its history is more chain-dominated than that of other upper midwest cities, and virtually every chain that had a presence in Wisconsin (A&P, Copps, Cub Foods, Kohl's, Kroger, National, Pick 'n Save, Piggly Wiggly, Red Owl, Sentry...) operated there at one point or another.

Getting the data was a bit interesting. Like David, I have consortial access to online directory archives...but the Madison directories cut off after 1960, leaving a huge swath of history uncovered. Making matters worse, all the post-1940s directories were incomplete, often cutting off halfway through the alphabetical section and leaving threads dangling!

Fortunately, I discovered that I had run off copies of the grocery classified listings from 1950, 1972, and 1985 city directories in the midst of a library trip years before! I was then able to reconstruct the other missing chunks of data by combining 1955 and 1956 directories, and by relying on period newspapers for 1960 Kroger and Piggly Wiggly location lists. The data is in fairly good shape now...
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 20 Jun 2018 21:18

Some interesting bits I discovered...

* Atwood Avenue addresses were numbered completely differently in 1927 and earlier than they were in 1929 and later, with no correlation between the two systems. Needless to say, this gave me quite a few problems while untangling the earliest addresses!
1859monroe.jpg
* Considering that Kroger disappeared from Wisconsin in 1971 without a trace, it's surprising how HUGE they were in Madison in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s: They were undoubtedly the city's strongest grocer in that era, with a local warehouse, bakery, branch headquarters, and more store locations than any competitor! Their predecessor was a local chain called Universal that formed out of a consortium of independents around 1920; Universal was absorbed into Kroger in 1928 (with a brief period of co-branding following).

* A&P's presence was weaker than Kroger's. A&P entered Madison in the early 1920s shortly after Universal was formed, replaced its 12 neighbourhood stores with 4 supermarkets by 1941, and withered and died by the 1970s. Two centennials were opened in the early 1960s, yet they didn't survive to 1972. By the end their only Madison presence was a lone mall store at Hilldale Center; this store remains open (albeit expanded and renovated to oblivion) as Metcalfe's Market today.

* After A&P consolidated into supermarkets, two of their earlier stores were briefly taken over by Kroger!

* Piggly Wiggly's 1940s predecessor was an outfit called Twentieth Century Stores.

* It's no coincidence that so many "Thrifty" and "Economy" stores appeared during the Great Depression! (And disappeared just as quickly.)

* Many new chains entered the Madison market between 1960 and 1972: Eagle, Del Farm, Kohl's, and Thrif-T-Mart. With the exception of Kohl's, all were gone by 1985.

* An interesting grocer that appeared by 1985 (and subsequently disappeared) was "Sav-U Warehouse Foods." Both of the addresses given for Sav-U stores were the same addresses as those of period Kmart stores, so I wonder if there was any kind of corporate connection going on between the two?

* Until the 1980s, Wisconsin's Copps chain sold general merchandise as well as groceries, and was usually listed in city directories under "Department Stores" instead of "Grocers." I didn't run off a copy of the 1985 Department Store section when I was combing through Madison city directories years ago, so Copps stores are missing from the 1985 column.

* The Wisconsin Historical Society has quite a few photos of Madison Kroger stores on file (almost all of which are now demolished, sigh). One of these is the photo of 3 N Pickney Street immortalized in the banner at the top of this website! (And yes, that building has been demolished too.)
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Groceteria » 20 Jun 2018 22:50

Great stuff and I will look at it more closely tomorrow. You will make a friend of mine happy with this. It's fun trying to piece together datasets, no?

One quick thing about Del Farm, which you may already know. These stores were a rebranding of National/Loblaw stores (including some of their other brands, like Miller's in Denver) in the 1960s, which would explain their sudden appearance in Madison.

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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 20 Jun 2018 23:44

Groceteria wrote:Great stuff and I will look at it more closely tomorrow. You will make a friend of mine happy with this. It's fun trying to piece together datasets, no?
These datasets are basically my main source of distraction from the cruelty of the world.
Groceteria wrote:One quick thing about Del Farm, which you may already know. These stores were a rebranding of National/Loblaw stores (including some of their other brands, like Miller's in Denver) in the 1960s, which would explain their sudden appearance in Madison.
Score one for confusion! Making matters even more confusing, the stores were renamed back to National again after the Loblaws "L" logo was adopted in 1973...though it didn't appear in Madison for more than an eyeblink of time. National/Loblaws pulled out of the market in January 1975, and Madisonians were forever denied the chance to experience the joys of No Name or Joe Fresh. :P
nationalclosing.jpg
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Groceteria » 21 Jun 2018 11:26

Andrew T. wrote: Making matters even more confusing, the stores were renamed back to National again after the Loblaws "L" logo was adopted in 1973
That apparently happened in several areas.

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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 22 Jun 2018 12:44

I think it's time for some pictures.
Regent Market Co-Op (Madison, WI)_8607727939_m.jpg
This storefront is undoubtedly the most historical grocery store in the city! It's located on what might be my absolute favourite street corner in Madison, with tree-lined streets and quaint buildings housing active neighbourhood businesses on three sides. Unfortunately, this "feel" of the neighbourhood doesn't continue for more than a block in any direction.

According to the present operators, it opened in April 1923 as F.J. Hoffman's grocery and meat market. It then spent more than 20 years as a Universal/Kroger branch, followed by nearly 50 years as a conventional independent market. The Regent Market Co-Op was founded in 1998 basically to continue the store, and it still sells the same foods that its predecessors did 20, 50, or 90 years ago.

When I visited in 2013, the interior had been decorated in wall signage evidently salvaged from an unknown 1970s full-size supermarket (including the "Bakery" sign hanging in the window). The co-op recently remodeled and expanded its retail space into the storefront next door, so it's probably gone now.

It's worth noting that the storefront is styled very similarly to 1859 Monroe Street (seen upthread), which was also a 1920s Universal/Kroger location.
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 22 Jun 2018 13:09

kohls-illustration.jpg
There were formerly four Kohl's arch-roofed stores in and around Madison:
* 4207 Monona Dr, Monona (opened 3/20/68)
* 1312 S. Park St (opened 10/30/68)
* 3700, 3710, or 3770 University Ave (opened 10/27/66 - newspapers and directories aren't terribly consistent about the number.)
* 2525 Winnebago St (opened 11/30/66)

Two still stand:

Image
4207 Monona Dr., which housed a furniture store at the time I took this photo and which now houses a Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Image
1312 S. Park St., which still sells groceries as a Roundy's-owned Copps store (remodeled and rebranded as Pick 'n Save by Kroger in 2017).

3710 University Ave and 2525 Winnebago St were both demolished after A&P shut down the Kohl's division in 2003, though I think David caught video captures of the latter in the '90s.
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 22 Jun 2018 14:20

A&P may have run Kohl's (into the ground) between 1983 and 2003, but piecing together A&P's late history in Madison under their own name is a bit of a challenge.

In 1960, A&P's store base consisted of four outdated stores from their first wave of supermarkets, none of which was newer than the 1940s!

A&P belatedly modernized in the early 1960s with three new stores:

* 820 W. Wingra Dr. (A Centennial store opening 2/7/61)
* 3051 E. Washington Ave. (A Centennial store opening 5/15/62)
* 702 Midvale Blvd. (At Hilldale Center, opening 9/11/62)

A&P was playing catch-up, though. Both of the Centennial stores had poor locations, set back far from the main road with no adjacent shopping centres, and neither lasted very long.

A 1969 newspaper ad lists A&P with only two locations, implying that the E. Washington centennial had already closed:

* 702 Midvale Blvd.
* 820 W. Wingra Dr.

By 1971, A&P had converted all its local stores to the A-Mart discount format. Contrary to what I previously assumed, they also opened two new stores adjacent to Kmart stores (These are evidently the same locations that had become "Sav-U Warehouse Foods" in 1985). A 1971 A-Mart newspaper ad lists four addresses:

* 702 N. Midvale "in Hilldale Shopping Center"
* 820 W. Wingra Dr.
* 3801 E. Washington "In K-Mart Plaza"
* 1002 Ann St. "In K-Mart Plaza"

(Yes, this means that there were two K-Marts and A-Marts side by side!)

None of the A-Mart stores are listed as such in the 1972 city directory, however. According to newspaper ads, 1972 was also the year the A-Mart branding was discarded in favour of A&P WEO.

The 820 W. Wingra Dr. store was converted to a post office in 1975.

Finally in 1979, A&P exited the market. A March 24 newspaper article explains:
A&P shuts 42 division stores; 170 in Madison to lose jobs

About 170 Madison workers will be among 1,200 persons expected to lose their jobs in Wisconsin, Iowa and Upper Michigan during the next two weeks when the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) closes 42 stores in its Wisconsin division.

The company announced Friday that discount sales on most merchandise will begin Monday at 174 unprofitable A&P stores to be closed in the Midwest and Northeast regions of the country.

A&P has three stores in Madison: In the Hilldale Shopping Center, 702 N. Midvale Boulevard, and in K-Mart Stores at 1002 Ann St. and 3801 E. Washington Ave. The buildings are rented.

The closings will virtually end A&P operations in its Milwaukee, Cleveland and Pittsburgh divisions, and will trim operations in Chicago, Boston and upstate New York.

(snip)
I've updated the 1972 column of the spreadsheet to include the A-Mart locations.

Image
820 W. Wingra Dr. remains a post office today, and neither the interior nor exterior have changed since then.
Image
The address for the 3051 E. Washington store is now 3030 Darbo Dr, and it now houses a Salvation Army facility, of all things.
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 24 Jun 2018 20:00

Madison's leading chains have changed several times over the years. From the 1920s to the 1950s, Universal/Kroger and A&P were the biggest players. In the 1960s and 1970s, Wisconsin chains such as Sentry, Kohl's, and Copps pushed Kroger and A&P out of the picture. Cub Foods and Woodman's emerged in the 1980s, and by the 2000s Kohl's, Sentry, and even Cub Foods were on the skids. Today the major players in Madison are Copps/Pick 'n Save (which snapped up the better Kohl's locations after that chain's 2003 closure, and which is now under Kroger ownership), Woodman's (quietly scooping up shoppers now as in the 1980s), and Hy-Vee (which began an aggressive push into Madison ten years ago).

I want to talk about Sentry, however. The chain emerged in the early 1950s (not the 1960s, in spite of what the pitiful Wikipedia page says), and gradually increased its penetration from one store in 1955 to four stores in 1985.
Sentry supermarket (Cottage Grove, Madison)_6248653192_m.jpg
One of these stores was the Sentry on 4602 Cottage Grove Road, which opened on 12 July 1972 and bore the consistent architecture characteristic of Sentry at the time.
Sentry supermarket (Cottage Grove, Madison)_8684211941_m.jpg
This store was still open when I moved to Madison in 2012, and at the time it was the last arch-style Sentry in operation anywhere in the state. It was also on the opposite side of the city from where I lived, so I hardly had the chance to go there often...but I mustered up a couple of cross-town trips there just the same! Unfortunately, it closed in 2014 less than two years later...and another relic of groceries past bit the dust.
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 26 Jun 2018 19:36

I realize I'm having a monologue by myself in this thread...but it's time to address the age-old question of What happened to Kroger in Madison?
krogermadison.jpg
In 1960, Kroger operated in Madison from the following locations:

* 525 S. Midvale Blvdv
* 4100 Monona Dr
* 515 University Ave
* 115 E. Washington Ave
* 2829 E. Washington Ave

All of these locations had opened in the 1950s with the exception of 115 E. Washington Ave., which dated to 1941 or earlier.

By 1971 Kroger had closed two stores and opened three, leaving them with six reasonably-modern area locations (listed in a 6/15/71 newspaper article about their pending exit from the market):

* 525 S. Midvale Blvd
* 4100 Monona Dr
* 2302 S. Park St
* 2817 Sherman Ave
* 2829 E. Washington Ave
* 6921 University Ave, Middleton

By August 7, all had been closed.

What happened to the stores? A La Crosse wholesaler and IGA affiliate called Gateway Foods allegedly had the right of first refusal on locations. Here's what I've been able to find...

525 S. Midvale Blvd: Sold to Gateway Foods, reopened as Midvale IGA Foodliner 12/71.
4100 Monona Dr: Listed as Thrif-T-Mart in the 1972 directory. (Incidentally, Thrif-T-Mart also took over some of the Kroger stores in the Chicago area.)
2302 S. Park St: Ceased to be a supermarket and converted to a Fashion Fabric store by 1974.
2817 Sherman Ave: Reopened as a C&P supermarket 9/72, supplied by Roundy's.
2829 E. Washington Ave: Reopened as Madison East IGA Foodliner 1/72.
6921 University Ave, Middleton: Reopened as IGA. Apparently closed as Kroger a bit earlier than the others.

Since several of these stores were temporarily closed or switching hands at the time the 1972 city directory was being compiled, they don't appear in that column of the spreadsheet.
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 26 Jun 2018 20:20

Here's the status of Kroger's 1960s and early 1970s Madison store locations today:

* 525 S. Midvale Blvd: The store stood more or less intact until being demolished for a mixed-use development about ten years ago.

* 4100 Monona Dr: Currently subdivided between three tenants. Even so, however, this is the most intact of Kroger's area locations. The side of the building, with blonde brick and an odd series of vertical windows, has been left untouched:
krogermadison.jpg
* 2302 S. Park St: Site of the Villager Shopping Center, which still exists. Unfortunately, the configuration has been altered so much over the years that it's impossible for me to tell where in the structure the Kroger store once was!

* 2817 Sherman Ave: Another severely-altered shopping centre location. Now home to a branch store of the Willy Street Co-Op.

* 515 University Ave: Closed before 1971. Demolished for high-rise apartments.

* 115 E. Washington Ave: Closed before 1971. Demolished for new downtown commercial development.

* 2829 E. Washington Ave: Demolished, even though the adjoining early 1950s shopping centre it was a part of is still intact.

* 6921 University Ave, Middleton: Another shopping centre location, and another branch of the Willy Street Co-Op! I used to be a member and regular visitor here, and can assure that the building has been gutted and renovated beyond recognition. (The address number has also "floated" to 6825 due to the centre's tenants no longer being unified by a single address.)

That works out to a 50% survival rate, with 25% still selling groceries under a different business model.
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Groceteria » 27 Jun 2018 22:54

Good stuff, as always. Thanks!

Is this the Midvale Blvd store or was it already gone by this shot (some of the site seems to have been cleared already in the 2007 imagery)?

https://goo.gl/maps/L2BGAGcxnHA2

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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 28 Jun 2018 00:21

Groceteria wrote:Is this the Midvale Blvd store or was it already gone by this shot (some of the site seems to have been cleared already in the 2007 imagery)?

https://goo.gl/maps/L2BGAGcxnHA2
Yes, that's the one! Unfortunately the grocery storefront faced south, and it's hard to get a glimpse of that side of the building from Google with construction in the way. I also suspect that the west face (which faced the road) was added onto at some point.

A 1957 opening photo of that store is available here.
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 29 Jun 2018 22:32

One more picture for the Madison thread, and I'll pause for a rest:
redowl.jpg
This store stands at 3535 E. Washington Ave. I photographed it in 2014, and at the time I had no idea about the history of the place...I just figured that it had been built as a supermarket, and that the integral pylon was part of the original structure.
redowl2.jpg
Thanks to my research, I now know that this was originally a Red Owl store, and it opened on 14 Jan. 1958.

The Lost Madison Facebook group has a detailed post on Red Owl here that includes dates and period exterior photographs. Even though the chain dominated the reaches of northern Wisconsin for many years, Red Owl had a rather brief tenure in the state's capital; entering the market in 1957 and exiting it in 1968, scarcely a decade later.

The 1972 Madison city directory doesn't list 3535 E. Washington anywhere in the grocers' classified section, so the building may have been reoccupied by a non-grocery tenant even then.
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Re: Madison, Wisconsin chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 04 Jul 2018 00:35

Kroger's history on Monona Drive continues to intrigue me. I keep discovering new and interesting things.
madison-monroe2.jpg
Thing #1: Kroger operated at 2507 Monona in 1950 and 4104 Monona in 1955...yet it turns out that the street was renumbered and both addresses were in fact the same store! The smoking gun of evidence was an opening ad from June 1949, clearly listing the initial address (2507 Monona Dr) and the cross street (Buckeye Road, which corresponds to the present-day 4100 block).
madison-monroest.jpg
Thing #2: When a new Kroger store at 4100 Monona opened on 25 March 1959, newspaper ads described the location as "Right Next Door to the Old Kroger Store." It turns out they weren't exaggerating: The new store literally shared a common wall with the old one, and both structures were integrated into a small shopping centre built in phases between the 1940s and the 1970s!

If I still lived in the area (or had a chance of going back there), I'd really want to check this site out in person. The seams between the different stores and eras of construction might be very apparent inside and in the back.

Image

Thing #3: The 1959 Kroger store on Monona Drive in Madison looks to have been a near-clone of a 1962 Kroger store on Mercer Street in Princeton, West Virginia...which also appears to have had vertical windows at the far end of its facade. Makes you wonder how many of these are out there...
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
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