Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

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Andrew T.
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Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by Andrew T. » 24 Aug 2018 21:03

Moving over from northwest Indiana to western Michigan...

Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations, 1925-1960.

Grand Rapids is the second-largest city in Michigan. Even so, with 371 chain grocery locations on the chart, this project turned out to be much larger than I expected it to be: That's about as many locations as Madison, WI and Fort Wayne, IN combined, and that's in spite of the two latter cities having larger populations than Grand Rapids and being researched through a much more extensive chronological spread! Chains must have really thrived in Grand Rapids, that's all I can say.

More tidbits and idiosyncrasies...
  • Most Grand Rapids streets have geographical suffixes of "NE," "NW," "SE," or "SW." On the plus side, these let you quickly discern which quadrant of the city an address falls into. On the minus side, they give no indication whether a street runs east-west or north-south. And they are always suffixes in Grand Rapids.
  • Due to the chronically deficient Ancestry database, the 1950s directories were incomplete. The "1955" column is actually an amalgam of listings from 1954 (Kroger), 1955 (most chains), and 1956 (A&P, Eberhard). For 1960, I wasn't able to list Kroger locations at all. Oh well, incomplete data's better than nothing at all?
And what's there to say about Grand Rapids' chain history? Well, it was very volatile.
  • In 1925, the city sported 4 F. Utting stores, 7 Purity stores, 13 Piggly Wiggly stores, 16 K&B stores, 35 A&P stores, and 36 C. Thomas stores. By 1930, every one of those chains but A&P had disappeared!
  • Kroger entered Grand Rapids in the second half of the 1920s, and reoccupied a number of storefronts that the aforementioned chains had left behind. In doing so, they briefly became the grocery leader of the city, and how: In 1930, they had 99(!) stores.
  • By 1935, a new incarnation of the C. Thomas chain had formed; though it petered out by the 1950s. Quite a few other chains rose and fell during this timeframe as well, including both local players and super-regionals.
  • National had a very brief and fleeting existence in GR, arriving by 1930 and departing by 1935. They had 2 stores in a city where A&P had 51 and Kroger had 99, so it's safe to say they never had a chance.
  • Meijer is the chain most closely identified with Grand Rapids today; however, it originated in the small town of Greenville, Michigan and did not expand into Grand Rapids until 1949. In case you're keeping score, their first locations in the city were at 4242 Division Ave. S. and 1645 Eastern Ave. SE.
  • Grand Rapids' biggest grocer in the late 1950s was an outfit called Eberhard's, which traces its lineage back to 1925 or earlier (when it was a single store operated by Pearl Eberhard). I have no idea what eventually became of this chain, though. Maybe TenPoundHammer knows?
  • I assume that Kroger and A&P both exited Grand Rapids by the early 1980s, and their decline was directly proportional to Meijer's growth...but that's just my assumption. Does anyone know the facts? Did Kroger build any Superstores in the city?
"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: Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by Groceteria » 25 Aug 2018 12:27

Excellent. I've recently read not one, but two histories of the Meijer family and chain, so Grand Rapids was high on my list. Thanks for saving me the work! This was a big one.

The thing about Grand Rapids is that it was much more populous than Madison or Fort Wayne in the 1920s-1940s, which are, of course, the years when the chains had their highest store counts. Interesting to see yet another distinct chain named Purity.



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Re: Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by Andrew T. » 25 Aug 2018 22:05

Excellent! Well, almost excellent: Google Maps misplaced four of the Leonard Street addresses west of Walker in the middle of nowhere. Not sure why it did that...
"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: Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by Groceteria » 25 Aug 2018 22:35

Andrew T. wrote:
25 Aug 2018 22:05
Excellent! Well, almost excellent: Google Maps misplaced four of the Leonard Street addresses west of Walker in the middle of nowhere. Not sure why it did that...
Google Maps just does that sometimes and no amount of editing will fix it. I can remove them from the database for the map if you like. There were a few other rows it didn't like and I was able to fix small typos (probably from unclear microfilm) in most of them. It still can't find Turner Road, though.

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Re: Grand Rapids, Mich/C.Thomas Stores

Post by wendtrya » 03 Dec 2018 09:49

I am interested in learning more about the C. Thomas Stores in Grand Rapids MI. They were very popular during the 1930s-1950s. I have seen the map that is posted and all of his locations. I found an obituary on him in the 1973 Grand Rapids Press but it doesn't list any info on his stores or anything about him besides his relatives. Do you know if there is any more info on his stores or a biography on him? Thanks

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Re: Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by Groceteria » 04 Dec 2018 21:26

No leads. You may check with the Grand Rapids Public Library. They may have a clipping file or something similar.

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Re: Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by TenPoundHammer » 03 Apr 2019 00:14

Groceteria, Andrew T: Thanks for doing these! If you'd like to cover later years too for just about anywhere in MI, I'd be willing to help.

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Re: Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by Groceteria » 16 Apr 2019 23:36

As luck would have it, I'm in Grand Rapids till Thursday morning and will be gathering data at the library tomorrow morning to fill in the remaining dates!

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Re: Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by Groceteria » 11 May 2019 22:25

I'm working on Grand Rapids post-1960 right now and have solved two of the Meijer mystery addresses from Andrew T's excellent work. One was a short-lived store downtown at 80 Ottawa St SW, while the other was an additional listing for the Woodward Avenue store. I've also been able to fill in the missing 1955/1960 locations and add 1960 suburban locations that were published in a separate volume starting that year.

A company-provided list of the opening and closing dates of every Meijer store through the 1980s that I obtained at the Grand Rapids Public Library was a big help. I'll be posting that at the same time I unveil the updated Grand Rapids page.

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Re: Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by Groceteria » 17 May 2019 19:30

Fun additions to the Grand Rapids page (scans from vertical file items at the Grand Rapids Public Library):

https://www.groceteria.com/place/us-mic ... nd-rapids/

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Re: Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by Andrew T. » 18 May 2019 11:51

Oh, this is wonderful! I was extremely curious how Grand Rapids' history had evolved since 1960. Now thanks to your on-site research, my questions have been answered...

* As with Milwaukee, Grand Rapids experienced a mid-century shift from national to local chains. And also as with Milwaukee, the "old guard" (Kroger, A&P) and "new guard" (Eberhard, D&W, Meijer) coexisted for close to 20 years, making the competition of that period mighty intense!

* Sure enough, A&P and Kroger both exited the Grand Rapids market by the mid-1980s, with A&P being the first to go.

* I'm fascinated by the trajectory of Eberhard's. It was the first locally-established chain to challange the majors in Grand Rapids, and it soared high and topped the competition throughout the 1960s...only to be leapfrogged by Meijer in store count by 1970. From that point forward the bloom was off the rose; Eberhard's entered a two-decade period of protracted decline, and the company vanished in the 1990s without a trace. Its stores were dispersed every which way following the company's closure, either repurposed for non-grocery purposes or occupied by competitors.

* It's also fascinating how Meijer's store count actually plunged during the 1980s and 1990s as the company shuttered its older grocery-only stores and standardized on the larger Thrifty Acres concept. This pattern of consolidation was very much like the one seen half a century earlier when chains replaced their neighbourhood stores with larger self-service supermarkets.
"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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Re: Grand Rapids, Michigan chain grocery/supermarket locations

Post by Andrew T. » 18 May 2019 12:43

Still more thoughts, since my mind is a-whir...

* You cracked the mystery of Turner Road! Congratulations!

* The list of Meijer locations in chronological order with opening and closing dates is incredible...this is the level of detailed information I dream about when doing research, and a similar list for a larger chain like Safeway or Loblaws would be the holy grail of the hobby.

* A question: When did Meijer's officially drop the possessive "s" from its name? The company was "Meijer's" when it expanded to GR in 1949, and it said so on its storefronts. It was still listed as "Meijer's" in 1960 directories, but 1961 newspaper articles call it "Meijer." The "big M" logo that was used until the company's 1984 anniversary also never said anything other than "Meijer" on it.
grsuperstore.jpg
* Kroger spent the 1970s in Grand Rapids disinvesting and dwindling, and it appears that they didn't open any new stores in the city itself after 1970. But they didn't exit the decade completely devoid of anything to show for it: A short-lived Superstore was built in the adjacent suburb of Kentwood. What's more, this superstore is an outstanding example with an original exterior that's still perfectly intact. The arches wrap around the corner of the building, and a second set of arches appear further down the facade to provide cover for the entrance of an adjacent (ex-department store?) tenant.

Near as I can tell, this now houses an unsigned medical facility.
"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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