For reference, for your consideration as you do your own research, or for your use if you decide to contribute material to Groceteria.com, these are some of the conventions, tips, and tricks I use when doing location research for the site.
You can access my master Google Sheets template here. It will automatically populate a Google Maps link based on the address you enter, among other things.
Using city directories
- Telephone directories are NOT reliable resources (they are very incomplete and often do not include whole chains, such as Safeway). They should only be used to bridge gaps, if at all.
- I use city directories exclusively as my starting point (e.g. Polk, Donnelly, Hill, Might, etc.), examining them at five-year intervals (or as close as possible) usually starting with the mid-1920s.
- The categories to look at are generally some variation on:
- Grocers – Retail
- Grocers and Markets
- Groceries and Meats
- It’s very important to make sure the area covered is consistent over time. In some cases, suburbs may be included in the “main” city directory to begin with and then in a separate one later. In some cases, the city itself may be split into multiple directories as it grows.
- In many city directories, the listing for a large chain may prompt you to look in the alphabetical section for the full listing. This is especially common between 1930 and 1970.
- Co-ops and franchises (e.g. IGA or Foodland) are often listed under the owner’s name or other identifier rather than the name of the co-op (e.g. Herb’s IGA or Main Street Foodland).
- Usually city directories have a page listing the abbreviations used for suburbs and major roads. Other conventions include:
- Street names not followed by “Av, Rd, Blvd, etc.” are generally “streets”. That is the default. It’s important to pay attention to this, especially on numbered streets. Sometimes there may be numbered streets and avenues, or maybe a Park Avenue and a Park Road.
- Pay attention to direction indicators (e.g. East Market Street).
- The abbreviation “do” means “ditto” (same as the one above).
- Often the first address listed is an office or warehouse, but this is not always clear from the listing.
What is a chain?
- Depending on the size of the city, a “chain” is usually defined as three or more stores in the early years.
- In later years, there may be only one location of a chain in smaller cities; I go with names I know from my own experience or from research on nearby cities.
- Many chains constrict over time. If something was a chain at some point, I keep listing it even if it dwindles to only one location.
- Co-op stores (IGA, Red & White, etc.) are often listed under the owner’s name (e.g. “Smith’s IGA”) so it’s important to look closely to catch these.
- A&P may be listed under “Great Atlantic and Pacific” or under “A&P” (and sometimes both).
- Street names change over time. Sometimes it’s easy to figure this out. Sometimes not so much. I try to list the current address, with any older versions noted in the “notes” column. This enables a Google Maps search. Most city directories include a street guide which may help you locate where renamed streets/numbers were so that you can figure out the current equivalent.
- Stores often expand into the neighboring unit, especially before 1950 or so. If the new address in incremented just by 2 (e.g. 346 becomes 344 or 348), I generally assume this is what has happened an consolidate the two addresses. I also note any changes in the “notes” field. (e.g. 346 in 1930, 348 in 1935, 346-350 in 1940.)
- Sometimes it helps to back-check addresses using the reverse-lookup section, particularly if there is a gap in the address history.
- Sometimes addresses are listed simply as an intersection. In this case, I try to determine (or estimate) the street address by looking at a contemporary view in Google Maps or by looking in the reverse-lookup section.
- Listings also sometimes alternate between naming a street address and naming a shopping center.