NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

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NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Groceteria » 10 May 2019 21:44

This one is pretty major:

https://www.groceteria.com/place/us-wis ... milwaukee/

I'm beat. Maybe more discussion tomorrow.

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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Andrew T. » 10 May 2019 23:42

Oh my...Milwaukee! The whole of it! And West Allis, and Wauwautosa too!

It'll take some time for me to parse this: Hopefully, the murky histories of Kohl's, Sentry, and Krambo all just became a lot clearer tonight.
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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Andrew T. » 11 May 2019 11:13

I guess I'll dig in...

Looking at the evidence, it's apparent that the chain history of Milwaukee can be divided into three distinct eras.

The first era lasted from the 1920s to the 1950s. A&P and National were the perennial #1 and #2 chains in the city, and other chains were essentially nonexistent: The only other grocers were independents.

A second era began to emerge mid-century, when a handful of strong and nimble independent grocers began to amass into chains that gave A&P and National a run for their money. Kohl's grew from 4 stores in 1950 to 22 by 1964...virtually matching National in store count. A&P's store count began to tumble around the same time (here as in the rest of the country), and in 1979 the chain exited Wisconsin entirely. Milwaukee appears to have been one of the few cities that National did well in, but their weakness in the rest of the state meant that Wisconsin was one of the first markets to be culled when Loblaws' finances hit the skids. By 1980, the transition was complete and A&P and National had been displaced as the #1 and #2 players by Kohl's and Sentry...and that's the way things stayed for the next 20 years.

Nothing lasts forever in the grocery business, and a third era emerged in the 2000s due to a barrage of corporations crashing and burning. A&P had bought their way back into the state by buying Kohl's...but by the 2000s their finances were in trouble, and the Kohl's division was offloaded as a sacrificial lamb to relieve debt. Meanwhile, Sentry's operations were on the ropes due to their corporate overseer, Fleming: Fleming jeopardized their standing as a chain by downloading stores to individual owners in 2001 (shuttering whatever couldn't be sold), then it declared bankruptcy two years later. Jewel-Osco's '90s advance into Milwaukee was similarly stymied due to Albertsons' problems, and they were gone in 2007. When the dust cleared, the only big chain left in Milwaukee was the spectactularly-average Pick 'n Save...which won the title by default rather than by inspiration.

The Milwaukee grocery market today is ripe for upstart disruption, and it should be worth keeping an eye on Meijer's ongoing entrance as history writes itself.
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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Andrew T. » 11 May 2019 11:44

May I reproduce (and credit) some of your Kohl's pictures on Supermartifacts? I intended that page chiefly as a showcase for my own photos...however, I seem to have unwittingly been endowed as Preserver of the Kohl's Legacy on the Internet, so I benefit from any visual documentation I can get!

Speaking of Kohl's, you may have been confused by some of the references to "Kohl's II" in 1980s and 1990s directories. Kohl's II was the name of the subsidiary set up by A&P to run the Kohl's stores following their 1983 acquisition. I assumed for years that this was nothing more than a legal name, used to clarify that Kohl's food stores and department stores were no longer connected, but they actually used the name in marketing and advertising for a few years.
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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Groceteria » 11 May 2019 15:42

Andrew T. wrote:
11 May 2019 11:44
May I reproduce (and credit) some of your Kohl's pictures on Supermartifacts?
Of course. I may add a few to this site later today or tomorrow. And thanks for the scoop on Kohl's II.

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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Groceteria » 11 May 2019 22:30

Andrew T. wrote:
11 May 2019 11:13
Looking at the evidence, it's apparent that the chain history of Milwaukee can be divided into three distinct eras.
I'd say this pretty much sums it up.

Milwaukee was fascinating to study in that it didn't really have the fast and steep decline of many upper midwestern cities, though the major chains did indeed implode by the 1980s. I love that Kohl's seems to have kept the "glass arch" prototype a good while longer than most other chains. I'm also anxious to see how Kroger's THIRD entrance into the market will play out, especially since this one offered them a really strong market position from the start.

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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Andrew T. » 12 May 2019 00:38

Groceteria wrote:
11 May 2019 22:30
I love that Kohl's seems to have kept the "glass arch" prototype a good while longer than most other chains.
I'd be curious to know when the last new Kohl's store with an arched roof was built. In Milwaukee, 8211 W Brown Deer Rd is undoubtedly the newest one standing...it features smoked aluminum window framing that makes it look a little more modern (a la Sears Tower), and the city assessor says the shopping centre was built "about 1975." There's a similar Kohl's in Janesville that was also built in 1975. And that's all: The chain seems to have stopped growing in the mid-'70s, and the next-newest stores I'm aware of are generic flat-roofed buildings from the A&P era.
Groceteria wrote:
11 May 2019 22:30
I'm also anxious to see how Kroger's THIRD entrance into the market will play out, especially since this one offered them a really strong market position from the start.
I'm cautiously optimistic: Many of Roundy's/Pick 'n Save's weaknesses (shoddy decor, mediocre private-label products, rolling out and then backpedaling on annoying new promotional stunts every few months) were things that Kroger improved simply by imposing its own standards.

One final thought for tonight. I was somewhat amused (and horrified) to discover that the Google car drove past the Kohl's at 3334 North Holton Street as it was being demolished:
ohno.jpg
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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Andrew T. » 12 May 2019 12:35

Now, it's time for some chain-by-chain deep-diving...

Act I: Kroger

As you might know, the bygone history of Kroger in Wisconsin is a small obsession of mine. The company entered the state through the 1928 acquisition of the Universal Grocery Company in Madison. The company's first foray into Milwaukee didn't go very well, however...and it seems there were several compounding reasons why.

Though Universal was very strong in Madison, they had never expanded their operations into Milwaukee...so Kroger was forced to do the hard work building a mass of stores there itself. Kroger also couldn't expand via its usual method of buying out a local chain, simply because there was no credible local chain for it to buy: Milwaukee's grocery industry in the early 1930s was dominated by one-off independents, and the largest local "chain" in a city of 580,000 spanned a mere six stores! Meanwhile, A&P and National both had a head start by an order of magnitude, blanketing Milwaukee with nearly 200 stores between themselves in the first half of the 1930s. Kroger had 11...and Kroger got creamed in chain-to-chain competition. The company's market share in 1936 was a pathetic 1%...and Kroger exited the city with a whimper in 1939.

Act II: Krambo

Kroger's second entrance into Milwaukee came via the acquisition of Krambo in 1955. Krambo was a Wisconsin chain founded by the Kramlich family, and my understanding of it has evolved over the years as I've learned more: At first I assumed it was strictly a northern WI chain that never operated in Milwaukee, then I assumed it was a Milwaukee chain that expanded north. Now I know that Krambo was based in Appleton, and it was a northern Wisconsin chain that expanded south. I also suspect that it originated as a Piggly Wiggly operator, as the first Krambo-branded stores that emerged in Green Bay in the 1940s were previously Piggly Wiggly stores.

Krambo expanded to Milwaukee in 1947, and its first store was housed in the basement of Hill's Department Store at 908 W Mitchell St, per the MPL. This was a pre-existing four-story building that's now home to a branch of the Milwaukee Public Library.

Krambo also opened five other stores in the pre-Kroger era:

* 324-328 W North Ave. This was a long and skinny building (resembling an early postwar A&P or Dominion) that was built to face the street, and it essentially survives intact. This was also the longest-lived Krambo-Kroger location in Milwaukee, opening by 1950 and persisting to the end in 1971. Now home to Community Warehouse.

* 2601 W Fond du Lac Ave. This store has a street-flush alignment, like most from its era. The brickwork and windows have been covered over in ugly siding, but it essentially stands intact. The address appears to have morphed into 2607 in 1960, and it survived til the end in 1971.

Image

* 9000 W Becher St, West Allis. I photographed this store in 2010, and thankfully it looks the same now as it did then. This is undoubtedly the snazziest and most intact ex-Krambo or ex-Kroger in all of Milwaukee County, with original windows, fieldstone accents, slanted canopy pillars, and even porcelain enamel tile! JJSPC said this went on to house a Red Owl in the 1980s, but the directories say that this location lived out that decade as a Shop-Rite store.


* 5020 W North Ave. This store is sandwiched between two streets in a street-flush alignment. This had the longest afterlife of any ex-Krambo or ex-Kroger in Milwaukee, still housing a Shop-Rite food store as late as 1998! The building itself still survives semi-intact, and now houses Social Security Administration offices.

* 3325 S 27th St. Demolished; a Wal-Mart now stands on the site.
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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Andrew T. » 12 May 2019 14:18

Kroger-era Krambo stores and subsequent Kroger stores
krambokroger62.jpg
After the 1955 sale of the chain, Krambo stores began to carry Kroger products and reflect Kroger chainwide building designs. Kroger phased out the Krambo name altogether in 1963, after a brief period of co-branded advertising.

The following store locations all opened in the Kroger era:

Image

* 7552 W Oklahoma Ave, West Allis. Later a Shop-Rite. I photographed this store in 2010, when it housed a Blockbuster Video and still substantially reflected its original appearance...including the integrated Kroger megasign and traces of where the "magic carpet" doormats used to be! Unfortunately...the building was later gutted to the bones and converted into a nondescript CVS (with a drive-thru lane where an adjacent part of the shopping centre used to be!)

* 3333 S 27th St. Later a National, then a Shop-Rite...which means this location had the misfortune of housing two doomed chains in close succession! This was part of a building that has evidently been added onto, remodeled, and subdivided into Planet Fitness and several other tenants...but original exposed brickwork is visible 'round back.

* 729 S Layton Blvd. As with 5020 W North Ave, this tore had the longest afterlife of any ex-Kroger location, converting to Jewel and later Shop-Rite and lasting through at least the late 1990s. The façade of the shopping centre has been remodeled. Now houses a Value Village.

* 1201 N 35th St. This store stood in the shadow of what is now Harley-Davidson headquarters. Later a Jewel. A small shopping centre stands on the site today, but I'm doubtful that it's the same building.

* 5706 N Port Washington Rd, Glendale. Later a Jewel; apparently demolished.

* 5500 W Capitol Dr. Demolished.

* 7601 W Fond du Lac Ave. Apparently demolished.

* Mayfair Shopping Center, Wauwatosa. The Mayfair Mall opened in 1958; the Kroger in the mall closed before 1970. I'm unclear *where* in the shopping centre this store was...and since Mayfair has been reconfigured drastically over the last five decades, it's doubtful that any trace of this store remains.

* 1300 E Locust St. A Dollar General store now stands on the site, but I'm doubtful that it's the same building.

* 6101 N Teutonia Ave. Part of a long shopping centre that has, alas, been facelifted since the 1970s.

* 4121 N 76th St. This appears to have been a very short-lived location, opening by 1965 and closing by 1970. Apparently demolished.

* 6015 W Forest Home Ave (Street view defaults to the wrong part of the property). Anchored a shopping centre. This is actually the second best-preserved Kroger relic in all of Milwaukee, still standing reasonably intact as a trucking company office. This is also another "there by '65, gone by '70" store, which is a sure sign that Kroger wasn't doing too well in the Milwaukee market 50 years ago...

What happened to Kroger's second go in Milwaukee?

Krambo in the 1950s was a plucky upstart grocer, challenging the hegemony of A&P and National side-by-side with Sentry and Kohl's. This momentum continued for the first few years after the sale to Kroger: Indeed, Krambo's new store construction was more rapid in the late 1950s than it had ever been before, and the chain's Milwaukee market share peaked in 1963 (per MPL). Yet it seems that as soon as the Krambo name was taken off the stores, the chain was transformed into a complacent, mediocre hulk overnight! Kroger entered a moratorium of Milwaukee store construction in the mid-1960s, just as Sentry in particular went into expansion overdrive. (I doubt Kroger's period penchant for prewrapped produce helped their competitive standing, either.) By 1971 their Milwaukee market share was in free fall, declining from 10% to 6% in one year. Their competitive standing in other Wisconsin cities (save for Madison) seems to have scarcely been any better...and Kroger corporate reacted by withdrawing from the state altogether that summer.

What happened to the individual stores? Three of them went to Jewel, which must have sensed that Kroger's departure was a good opportunity to sweep into the Milwaukee market...but whether due to operational problems or anti-Illinois chauvinism, none of Jewel's stores lasted beyond the early 1980s. (Jewel would make a second, equally-unsuccessful stab at the Milwaukee market in the late 1990s.) Five Krogers either immediately or eventually became rebranded as Shop-Rite markets, which appears to be a franchise or buyer's cooperative system that I know little about. Two of these Shop-Rites lasted into the late 1990s, but none of them are housing food stores 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: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Andrew T. » 13 May 2019 22:45

krambo60.png
Here are Krambo store locations from the Milwaukee Journal, January 1960. For the most part these jibe with the table; other than 208 E. Capitol Dr., which isn't listed. (Maybe that store came and went quickly?) 5656 S. Packard Ave. was in Cudahy.

The Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel archives were digitized back when the Google News Archives were still a thing, and these resources are brimming with decades' worth of vintage store photographs and opening-date announcements...if you can find them. Unfortunately Google no longer indexes the archive for searching, making such research completely futile.
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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Andrew T. » 15 May 2019 12:49

If we're all talked out on Krambo and Kroger (or I'm talked out, as the case may be), I guess it's time to shift over to some of Milwaukee's other doomed grocery chains.

National did very well for itself in the Milwaukee market, maintaining a strong #2 position behind A&P for many years (and actually pulling ahead in store count briefly around 1945). Even in the twilight years of the mid-1970s when Kohl's and Sentry were nipping at their heels, National maintained the second-largest store base of any chain in the city.

The physical record of the stores they built is fairly underwhelming, though. I scouted out many of the locations on Google Maps, hoping to see a wealth of 1950s stores with intact pylons like this one in Michigan. But...no pylons. No dice.

I did see a large number of surviving (if anonymous) undersized early-1950s stores. These include 7711 W Greenfield Ave., 6854 W Beloit Rd., 8330 W Blue Mound Rd., 1944 N Farwell Ave., 430 E Silver Spring Dr., 7620 W Burleigh St., 3119 S Clement Ave., 2110 W Hampton Ave., 3165 S 27th St., and 2232 W Capitol Dr. Oh, and then there's this:

Image

This is Rupena's Foods at 7641 W. Beloit Rd, as seen in the winter of 2010. I love it whenever I learn the origin of some building I photographed years before, and this is no exception: This freestanding store was built in 1954 and operated as a National supermarket through at least 1964.

Moving ahead in time, there are two outstanding later stores that caught my eye. One of these is located at 1933 S 60th St. in West Allis, and features an eye-catching facade with a shallow arch roof. A similar store stands at 3217 W Villard Ave (and is still open as a supermarket). According to assessment data, both were built in 1963-64.
snazzy-nationals.jpg
Were these stores a one-time flight of fancy for the staid National under Loblaws ownership in the 1960s? Maybe. It's a shame they couldn't have rolled out this prototype throughout Canada and the US: Can you imagine one of these decked out in No Frills or Valu-Mart livery in 2019? And we spatial historians and retail geeks might be speaking reverently about the mid-century contributions of Loblaws to the urban landscape, the way we talk about Safeway marinas today...
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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by rich » 15 May 2019 17:57

It's funny that you have only passing mention of Red Owl which also made an effort in Milwaukee and Chicago. They departed Chicago in the 60s and sold the stores to National.

National's problems were there own, not Loblaw's, btw. Their working capital fell below the requirements of their long-term debt and they need to raise cash to cover this. They had built new distribution facilities in the Chicago, St. Louis & Indianapolis areas shortly before all this and these expenses, as well as declining profits in several divisions were the cause of their problems. The Chicago facility, in Hillside I think, came on line with a consolidation of their Milwaukee and Chicago operations and probably shedding of peripheral stores in Wisconsin. They actually had been rebuilding market share in Chicago during the 70s, but ultimately sold the division (A&P bought a lot of stores, many older, smaller ones also became Walgreens), after having sold Quad Cities and Youngstown/Pittsburgh.

National built a lot of barrel roofed stores even after other chains had stopped using the style---look around the web and you'll see rounded roofs with flat roofed sides in stores from the late 70s and 80s after they had shed the mansard roofs of the 60s and early 70s. The more basic ranch or sounded roof for the entire roof made expansion difficult because the ceiling heights would vary and the line of the store didn't look great---the barrel roof original was used in many relatively large buildings like roller rinks, bowling alleys, and supermarkets because it was structurally safe and allowed open floor plans. Exposing the barrel roof ala Marina Safeways, Kohls, etc. was basically a way to incorporate the roofline and possibly cheaper than covering it up with a plain brick front.

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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Andrew T. » 15 May 2019 19:29

Rich! You're back!
rich wrote:
15 May 2019 17:57
It's funny that you have only passing mention of Red Owl which also made an effort in Milwaukee and Chicago. They departed Chicago in the 60s and sold the stores to National.
Red Owl (my avatar!) dominated northeast Wisconsin's population centres from the 1940s to the 1980s, and their lack of staying power in southern Wisconsin was strange. In both Milwaukee and Madison, they entered with a bang by 1960...then by the early 1970s, they were shrinking to nothing. The table lists only one Red Owl in all of Milwaukee in 1980 or beyond, and that was a franchised location.
rich wrote:
15 May 2019 17:57
National's problems were there own, not Loblaw's, btw. Their working capital fell below the requirements of their long-term debt and they need to raise cash to cover this. They had built new distribution facilities in the Chicago, St. Louis & Indianapolis areas shortly before all this and these expenses, as well as declining profits in several divisions were the cause of their problems. The Chicago facility, in Hillside I think, came on line with a consolidation of their Milwaukee and Chicago operations and probably shedding of peripheral stores in Wisconsin. They actually had been rebuilding market share in Chicago during the 70s, but ultimately sold the division (A&P bought a lot of stores, many older, smaller ones also became Walgreens), after having sold Quad Cities and Youngstown/Pittsburgh.
Thanks for the insight.

I do get the impression that many of National's problems were cumulative, and seeded long before their financial crisis. For every Milwaukee or St. Louis where National thrived, there seem to have been four or five cities where they showed up late, lagged behind Kroger, A&P, or local chains in store development, and withdrew with a whimper after a few years (or at most a couple decades) of ineffectual operations. They didn't run a tight ship.

Some more thoughts and observations...

* National played around with the "Del Farm" name in Milwaukee for a short time around 1970. They never prioritized or standardized on that brand like they did in some other midwest markets, though. Early 1970s newspaper ads featured both National and Del Farm logos, with Del Farm in the smaller and subservient position. And of course, Loblaws used its 1973 reimaging to sweep the Del Farm name out of sight once and for all...

* National lasted slightly longer in Milwaukee than they did in Madison, and advertised in the local papers at least as late as November 1976.
national-731212.png
* One "aha" moment I got when scanning over the newspapers: National ran the Kmart Food stores in Milwaukee! Two of the locations listed in this 1973 ad (2701 S. Chase Ave. and 7401 W. Good Hope Rd.) appear in the 1975 column of the table as National stores, so obviously they were rebranded at some point...and it appears that these may have been the only "new" Nationals that opened in the 1970s.

What became of the ex-Kmart Food stores when National exited Wisconsin? Were they all cast off to independents? Shuttered entirely? The table doesn't say...
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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Steve Landry » 16 May 2019 10:18

I'm not certain but I think Del Farm was in Denver in the mid 1970s??
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Re: NEW: Milwaukee, 1930-2015

Post by Andrew T. » 16 May 2019 12:04

Steve Landry wrote:
16 May 2019 10:18
I'm not certain but I think Del Farm was in Denver in the mid 1970s??
The Denver page holds the answer to that:
Groceteria wrote:Miller’s Groceteria/supermarkets were sold to National Tea in 1957. Most were converted to the Del Farm banner in the 1970s, but some seem to have used the National name before closing for good late in the decade.
This was clearly a city that fell into National's "show up late and withdraw after a couple decades of ineffectual operations" category. Madison, WI and most Michigan markets unfolded in the same way. It makes you wonder why they bothered.

But, back to Milwaukee...
"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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