There are ample stories about Krambo/Kroger and Del Farm/National to go around...but I feel ready to get to the meat of the matter and talk about Milwaukee's greatest defunct grocer of all: Kohl's.
For years, my go-to source of information about Kohl's early years as a company has been this prose-laden newspaper article from 1970
. Here's what it says about the origins of the chain:
Milwaukee Journal, 9 Sep 1970 wrote:"[Max] Kohl was born in Poland in an area then claimed by Austria. His parents ran a small dry goods store there. When he migrated to Milwaukee in his midtwenties he got a factory job and started saving his money to open a store, too. He married a Milwaukee girl, Mary Hiken, and they opened a grocery at Lincoln and Kinnickinnic..."
This was 630 E Lincoln Ave., a pre-supermarket store that was Kohls' only retail operation throughout the 1930s. At least nowadays, this address is in a residential block two blocks east
of Kinnickinnic Ave., so I'm unclear on this store's precise location.
"By the late thirties some merchants were experimenting with the supermarket method of doing business. Kohl decided this was the trend to follow. He was willing to risk his savings. He opened a store at 38th and North, another at 38th and Vliet, then started a 1938 version of a supermarket in the 3700 block of N. Teutonia. These stores provided some off-street parking and allowed the customer to serve himself to a greater extent than before..."
Sounds like they weren't entirely self-service at this point! Sure enough, all three of these new locations appear in the 1940 column of the table. At least two are storefront locations barely any larger than Kohls' original store (one of which lasted into the 1960s and lived out its last days as Kohl's Liquor Store), but...
"It was not until the Vliet St. store was enlarged in 1942 that anything comparable to a modern supermarket emerged. It had something like 7,000 square feet of sales area. [...] Except for the meat department, it was entirely self-service. It even had automatic doors."
is where things start to get a little confusing. In 1940 and 1950, "Kohl Bros." is listed as having an address at 3826 W. Vliet St. In 1944 and from 1955 on, their store is listed at 3818
W. Vliet St. A&P also had a store at 3818 W. Vliet in 1935 and 1940: Did A&P and Kohl's have storefronts side by side? Did the latter annex the former? The article doesn't say. Maybe the answers are in the reverse-lookup section of the directories, maybe not.
Today, a one-story building stands at 3824
W. Vliet St. that looks like a typical 1940s supermarket. According to the Milwaukee assessor, it was built in 1942...exactly when the "expansion" took place. It's flanked by vacant lots to either side.
"Further store construction was impossible until 1946. Kohl was ready. Late that year, he opened an even larger store—it is still at 46th and Burleigh and is the same size, although it has been remodeled inside."
This location appears to be 4623 W Burleigh St., which surprisingly doesn't appear in the table until 1955. This was a flat-roofed store, and shockingly it lasted all the way to the end in 2002-03! It still stands in intact condition today as a convenience store...and though this was a flat-roofed store, the façade contains ridged brick cues identical to those that later appeared on arch-roofed stores.
"A year or two after the Burleigh store opened, Kohl acquired a building that had been the Selig auto agency and converted it into another large supermarket [...] at 76th and Greenfield."
This was technically the first Kohl's outside of Milwaukee, since 7546 W. Greenfield Ave is in West Allis. This was another flat-roofed store, and a relatively short-lived one, closing in the 1960s. It also still stands intact...and interestingly, you can make out where Kohl's made some small alterations to the dealership, such as bricking over a showroom window on the left wall.
By this point, Kohl's had opened six stores. The seventh was 8616 W North Ave. in Wauwatosa...their first with an arched roof. But how did Max Kohl get the idea? Well, the article is bluntly forthright
"On a trip to Philadelphia the elder Kohl admired the design of stores being opened there by the Penn Fruit Co. When he built another new store—this one was at 86th and North—he adapted the Pennsylvania design, with the domed roof that has become identified with Kohl's in Wisconsin."
After this point in the chronology, the level of detail in the article drops off considerably. No specific post-1950 store locations are mentioned. As far as the company's growth is concerned, it merely mentions that they had "about 10 stores in the Milwaukee area" in 1955 and had grown to encompass 48 supermarkets and 5 department stores in 1970.
So, it's over to the table for guidance! To be continued...