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Modern Grocery Stores

Grocery stores back when Gram was my age… any idea what they were like?  Neither did I until I heard a story on NPR yesterday about the grocery store chain, A&P, and how they changed grocery stores in this county.

In doing some research for this post, I (as always with this blog) learned a few new things!

1916 - the first Piggly Wiggly Store

The first “self service” grocery store didn’t open until 1916  (the same year as Gram’s Cookbook was written) in Memphis, TN and was the Piggly Wiggly.  Before this great innovation in shopping?  You gave your shopping list to a clerk and they put it all in your bag or basket or… no wandering aisles, no impulse ice cream purchases, no shopping carts…

1909 Dry Goods Store in Vancouver, WA

But, as Gram didn’t live in Memphis, she no doubt still used an old fashioned “dry goods” store, which sold dry things – beans, fabric, coffee…. The meat, milk, veggies were either produced by the family or bought from the butcher shop, the bakery…

Despite the innovations of the Piggly Wiggly, it wasn’t until the A&P amped up their efforts did we enter a more familiar grocery store.  The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, as it was originally known,  changed things by doing a new idea – dramatically cutting prices and only stocking items that sold quickly.  Remind you of any other store?  Yup, this is the Walmart model long before Walmart!  In fact, there were similar concerns about A&P running out small shops, much the same way that Walmart is talked about today.

1936 from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

There’s so much to read about this and if you’re interested in what it was like 100 years ago…

NPR has a great article on How A&P Changed the Way We Shopped.

Another NPR article about how A&P changed modern shopping.

(Both of the above links have some really cool old pictures, too.)

And then, the book behind the NPR interviews…The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America by Marc Levinson.  It’s not out yet, but you can pre-order it from Amazon.

Isn’t it interesting to see how different things were back then?   Things certainly changed a lot during the 20th century!


3 responses »

  1. Wonderful post! I, too, learn something from your blog with each new entry! Keep ’em coming!

  2. I just finished reading The Grapes of Wrath a few weeks back. I learned a whole lot about migrant labor circa the Depression in that book. One interesting detail is that, in the novel, most of the big farmers/employers provided a small store for their workers. Like the “company store,” the prices were not always fair. But they did sell everything – meat and dry goods. And based on some bits of dialogue in the book, it seems that it was not “self serve.” Ma would tell the clerk what she wanted, and he would gather and weigh the items for her.

    It’s these everyday details of life that I find most interesting. I’m not much for battle strategy, etc., but I could read about this kind of thing all day.

  3. And just to bring it back full circle the coop I work in was once the local A&P. I love that sort of thing!


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