Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

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Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 09 Jul 2018 13:33

It recently occurred to me that even though Groceteria has a multitude of Michigan regulars on the forum, the Great Lake State is completely devoid of representation on the map. That didn't seem right, so I decided to do something about it: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery locations 1925-1960. I also included Ypsilanti locations in my research; even though the Ypsi directories cut off after 1940, not leaving a lot to go on.

Ann Arbor is a city with a fair amount of personal significance to me. It's a university city, and one that has a fair amount in common with Madison, Wisconsin. It's less than half the size of Madison, however, and the list for Ann Arbor is both shorter and more dominated by inter-regional chains.

What is there to say about the history of supermarkets in this city? A&P and Kroger both exploded in the late 1920s, with A&P going from one Ann Arbor store to five and Kroger leaping from none to seven! Pierce's, their closest local multi-store competitor, petered out in the 1940s.

The local Wrigley's powerhouse entered Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti in 1951 by purchasing an outfit called Packer's Outlet. Meanwhile, National made an aggressive push into Ann Arbor during the 1950s by opening two stores. I'm not sure how long they lasted there, and we know the story didn't end well.

One interesting peculiarity I discovered was that the "big three" chains of southeast michigan (A&P, Kroger, and Wrigley) performed virtually no store construction in Ann Arbor during the 1950s: The stores all three operated out of in 1960 were the exact same stores all three operated out of in 1951! No doubt they spent the 1960s entering shopping centres and playing catch-up...but alas, the directories end 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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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 09 Jul 2018 14:12

One reason Ann Arbor is such a great city to research is that the Ann Arbor District Library has an absolute treasure trove of historical photos of everyday sights viewable online. Many of these were donated by the Ann Arbor News, or taken by the city's municipal sign inspector in the 1970s. Needless to say, there are quite a few pictures of vintage supermarkets in this bunch, including locations listed in the spreadsheet:

A&P, 413 E. Huron St., 1973
Kroger, 105 E. Ann St., 1941: Both before and after it was expanded to twice its original size!

My personal favourite is 704 S. Main St., a Kroger store that opened in February 1942. It appears to have been identical to the Ann Street store originally. Unlike Ann Street, however, this store still stands in nearly perfect condition today as a 7-Eleven convenience store:
a2-704smain.jpg
The twin-peaked house behind the store is also still intact after 75 years.
"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: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by rich » 09 Jul 2018 16:58

National exited Detroit in 1966; CF Smith was the chain they had bought in Detroit to establish themselves, so it's odd that there isn't continuity between locations of the two. National closed some outlying stores like the ones in Toledo in 1963.

Oddly missing is Food Fair (no relation to the Philly-based chain) which was the ancestor of Farmer Jack's and probably would have had stores in Ann Arbor by the late 50s.

Wrigley revived the Packer name in the 60s for "discount" grocery stores which basically were K-Mart Foods w/o the K-Mart next door (usually underperforming Wrigley's).

Kroger's lack of construction in the 50s is particularly odd. During this period, they often closed stores after just a few years. either based on performance or because they moved to a bigger store down the street. They also went through a major expansion push during the mid-50s to late 50s. OTOH, Kroger kept small numbers of very small stores until the early 60s.

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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Groceteria » 10 Jul 2018 09:56

Andrew T. wrote:My personal favourite is 704 S. Main St., a Kroger store that opened in February 1942. It appears to have been identical to the Ann Street store originally. Unlike Ann Street, however, this store still stands in nearly perfect condition today as a 7-Eleven convenience store: a2-704smain.jpg
GREAT photos!

There's a similarly well preserved ex-Safeway serving as a 7-Eleven in San Francisco.

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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 12 Jul 2018 22:47

rich wrote:National exited Detroit in 1966; CF Smith was the chain they had bought in Detroit to establish themselves, so it's odd that there isn't continuity between locations of the two. National closed some outlying stores like the ones in Toledo in 1963.

Oddly missing is Food Fair (no relation to the Philly-based chain) which was the ancestor of Farmer Jack's and probably would have had stores in Ann Arbor by the late 50s.
[...]
I think National may have purchased C.F. Smith when that chain was in the midst of a massive rebuilding/relocation tear. Over in Dearborn (a city I'll probably be posting next), there are no store locations common between C.F. Smith in 1948 and National in 1955. C.F. Smith had opened two new stores by 1953 that promptly became National outlets, but none of their earlier stores survived the conversion.

Over in Lansing, National emerged circa 1950 by buying a local chain called Market Basket (no relation to the west or northeast Market Baskets). Oddly enough, here there was massive continuity: Three 1940s Market Basket stores were still operating as National in 1960. Oh well, it wouldn't be like National if their decisions were logistically consistent or made sense!

As for Food Fair, they seem to have either been very spotty in their coverage, or they took forever and a day to expand beyond the inner circle of Detroit!
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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 12 Jul 2018 23:51

Here are some interesting post-1950s supermarket pictures, courtesy of the Ann Arbor District Library:

* Kroger, 1974, 1140 Broadway St. A very snazzy and unusually-styled building that might have been their first new store after the 1950s construction dearth. Unfortunately, the building was demolished in the 2000s. Note the adjacent SupeRx, and also note the use of the pre-1961 rectangular Kroger logo.

* Kroger Franken-superstore with arches tacked on, 1977. I love stores like these. Address is given as 3755 Washtenaw Ave, which corresponds to the Arborland Mall. Judging by a careful study of HistoricAerials.com, the south half of the Kroger building is the only portion of the original mall that still survives!

* Another Kroger Franken-superstore with arches tacked on, 1977, 2603 Jackson Rd (Westgate Shopping Center). Now appears to be subdivided between Staples and Rite Aid and renovated beyond recognition.

* Kroger, 1974. Address is given as 3755 Washtenaw Ave; but this is clearly a different location from the one two places above, so who knows where this was? The "Kroger" lettering is flanked by two small signs shaped like cutting boards that say "Sanders Candy Bakery." Very intriguing...

* Kroger superstore, 1977. Here is the 2502 Packard St. store in its early operational glory; decades before its eventual 2009 closure and subsequent demolition. A Cunningham Drugs store stands next door, which is another blast from the past.

* A&P centennial store shortly before opening (before the signs even went up on the building!), 1959. E Stadium Rd and Industrial Hwy. Even though this store allegedly opened in May 1959, I didn't see the address in the 1960 city directory, so maybe the opening was delayed or the directory compilers were working ahead of schedule. Oh, but there's more...

* The very same A&P store at 1919 S. Industrial Hwy, now in 1975 with an expansion and makeover! You can (barely) make out the edge of the original centennial roof. Note the complete visual clash of the "colonial" A&P sign with the 1970s-mod facade. Also note that two other versions of the A&P logo are visible on the windows! This store is also a survivor: It still stands and still houses a supermarket (Kroger occupied the space for many years, and it's now a store called Lucky's Market). And yes...the centennial roof is still visible from the air; though obscured by a false front on the ground.

* A&P, 1977, 217 N. Maple Rd. A typical post-centennial store with the capsule-shaped logo. Building still seems to survive today (albeit renovated beyond recognition) as a Dunham's Sports store, paired with a Kmart that closed in 2015. But wait! This wasn't the only supermarket at the Kmart plaza...

* Wrigley supermarket, 225 N. Maple Rd. Now this is interesting! This is clearly and plainly an ex-Kmart Foods store, and Kmart Foods labelscar is still visible on the facade! The photo is dated 1971, but I'm assuming this was mislabeled because most of the chainwide Kmart Foods-to-Wrigley rebrandings happened in 1976. (And in fact, this is almost a carbon copy of this picture from 1976 in Atlanta.)

* The very same Kmart Foods/Wrigley store, now in 1977, now rebranded as Great Scott! following the 1976 Allied-Great Scott! merger. Note the snazzy 1970s graphics added in the windows.

* Farmer Jack, 1979, 2103 W Stadium Blvd. The building isn't present in a 1973 aerial image, so it must have opened later in the decade. Still stands, but subdivided and renovated beyond recognition.
"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: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by rich » 13 Jul 2018 09:47

Wrigley's parent Allied Supermarkets operated KMart Foods in SE Michigan and in a variety of other markets. It's pretty unremarkable that the KMart store was rebranded. What is remarkable is that they would have done these rebrands a few years before KMart foods was gone altogether. KMart had already begun working with various chains (A&P and Grand Union, among others) to co-locate new stores w/o the KMart Foods branding even before the KMart Foods locations were rebranded or sublet to other tenants.

Allied, at one point, operated Wrigley, KMart, and Packer (KMart format w/o KMart next door) in the Detroit area. Running multiple banners has rarely worked out for anyone---Kroger seems to be a major exception--it was common around the 60s and 70s and chains usually ended up consolidating under one banner.

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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Groceteria » 04 Aug 2018 12:15

This list has been added to the site with a map:

https://t.co/lnwvlZ4BNq

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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 27 May 2019 18:08

I'm back from a weekend trip to the Detroit metro. I visited the Ypsilanti District Library (which I highly recommend), and now have enough research on hand to complete the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti features through to the present day.

Of course, I did more than just dig through dusty books. I tore around the Detroit metro with a camera, taking pictures of every Kroger Superstore and A&P Centennial I could find! My single favourite of the grocery artifacts I uncovered in Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti was this perfect, pylon-equipped '50s National on 50 Ecorse Road.
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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Groceteria » 27 May 2019 19:17

Andrew T. wrote:
27 May 2019 18:08
I'm back from a weekend trip to the Detroit metro. I visited the Ypsilanti District Library (which I highly recommend), and now have enough research on hand to complete the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti features through to the present day.
Excellent. I'm planning a Detroit trip in August to dig into that library collection, so between us we should have the major cities in Michigan fairly well covered except for post-1960 locations in Lansing-Jackson (which I may try to visit this summer as well)!

And the National store is lovely!

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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 27 May 2019 20:12

Groceteria wrote:
27 May 2019 19:17
Excellent. I'm planning a Detroit trip in August to dig into that library collection, so between us we should have the major cities in Michigan fairly well covered except for post-1960 locations in Lansing-Jackson (which I may try to visit this summer as well)!

And the National store is lovely!
Thanks! When you do visit, you may wish to head over to the Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor to view the archives of Farmer Jack and the Borman family. 7 linear feet of photographs, reports, site surveys, and location listings!
https://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bhlead/umi ... ?view=text

I would have liked to research Detroit myself, but their library was closed the entire Memorial Day weekend. And if I had gone there, I wouldn't have had as much time to spend sightseeing and photographing. *sigh*
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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 28 May 2019 12:18

Without further ado:
Revised Ann Arbor CSV, extended from 1960 to 2019.
Revised Ypsilanti CSV, extended from 1940 to 2019.


Two more contiguous cities conquered! And of course, the further research was full of surprises...

* A few years ago I found a 1983 list of Detroit metro A&P locations, and was quizzical as to why Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti were omitted from the list. Now I know why: A&P actually withdrew from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti between 1980 and 1983! I have no idea why this happened (was there a local labour issue not affecting other southeast Michigan markets?), but it did. Of the six stores A&P was operating at the time, one was sold to Kroger, one became an IGA, and two became a local chain called Savewel. Two are still open as (other) supermarkets today.

* Another surprise: Wrigley/Great Scott also withdrew from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti by the dawn of the 1980s. Evidently, this market was a sacrificial limb when Allied declared bankruptcy in 1978. One store was sold to A&P (who promptly closed it), one was sold to Farmer Jack (who kept it open until the 2000s), and one on Stadium Boulevard languished until 1993 when it was reoccupied by Whole Foods and later Trader Joe's.

* The National pylon store in Ypsi upthread had a long post-National existence, housing a Farmer Jack store in the 1970s and a Galaxy Foods store in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Two of National's other area stores were transferred to a local operator called Vescio's in the 1960s, although none of these survived longer than a decade or so.

* Given Kroger's tumultuous history in Michigan (withdrawing from northern and western markets altogether, shuttering two-thirds of its Detroit area stores, being rocked by labour strikes in 1983-84 and 1992, letting stores languish without renovations until the 2000s, and coming close on more than one occasion to exiting the state entirely), it's surprising how Kroger has persevered in Ann Arbor in spite of this and led all other chains in store count almost continuously from 1930 to the present day.

* I got a chuckle out of "Busch's Valu-Land" rebranding itself under the loftier title of "Busch's Fresh Food Market" after 2005.

Other assorted notes:

* Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti directories were combined in the 1930s, published separately for many years after that, then combined yet again into a H-U-G-E volume for most (but not all) years starting in 1996.
* The Ypsilanti library didn't have a 1965 Ann Arbor directory available...which is too bad, since it would have captured several chains in transition.
* There are many names listed in 1970s and 1980s directories that were convenience stores, not "real" supermarkets. I had to resort to my own discretion to determine what to include and what to leave out.
"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: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Groceteria » 28 May 2019 18:00

Andrew T. wrote:
28 May 2019 12:18
Without further ado:
Excellent stuff! I'll add these tonight.
Andrew T. wrote:
28 May 2019 12:18
The Ypsilanti library didn't have a 1965 Ann Arbor directory available...which is too bad, since it would have captured several chains in transition.
Allen County Public (in Fort Wayne) has it. I'll grab photos in August when I stop by on the way to or from Detroit. Let me know if you need other stragglers while I'm there!

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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Groceteria » 28 May 2019 18:56

Updated on the site with maps. These are nice ones. Thanks!

Ann Arbor: https://www.groceteria.com/place/us-michigan/ann-arbor/

Ypsilanti: https://www.groceteria.com/place/us-michigan/ypsilanti/

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Re: Ann Arbor, MI chain grocery/supermarket history

Post by Andrew T. » 29 May 2019 18:47

Excellent! The maps are always illuminating.

They also remind me of another issue: Although the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti seem to run together on the map, they don't actually touch. Two annex-resistant "charter" townships (Pittsfield and Ypsilanti) make up the "nowhere zone" in between. For the most part, the directory publishers handle these locations the same way the Post Office does: By lumping them in with Ypsilanti unless they're in the upper reaches of Pittsfield Township, in which case they're lumped with Ann Arbor.

Some of the stores in this "nowhere zone" may have slipped through the publishers' fingers. 4745 Washtenaw Ave was the site of a Kroger store in Pittsfield Township. This store opened before 1984 (the address is cited in news articles regarding the strikes and closures that year), yet I couldn't find it listed in a directory until 1996...shortly before it closed.

One address that bugged me is 103 Washtenaw Place: Google chokes on it, and tries to place it in downtown Ypsilanti. Fortunately, the library has a resource called The Lost Street Names of Ann Arbor...and it turns out that Washtenaw Place is now Zina Pitcher Place. This jibes nicely with a 1977 newspaper page describing the location as "hospital area."
Groceteria wrote:
28 May 2019 18:00
Andrew T. wrote:
28 May 2019 12:18
The Ypsilanti library didn't have a 1965 Ann Arbor directory available...which is too bad, since it would have captured several chains in transition.
Allen County Public (in Fort Wayne) has it. I'll grab photos in August when I stop by on the way to or from Detroit. Let me know if you need other stragglers while I'm there!
I'll probably be making a return visit between now and August, and the Ann Arbor District Library may have the "missing" years that Ypsilanti doesn't have. So, I think I'm set...
"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."
Andrew Turnbull

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