Established in 1999, Groceteria.com is a site about the history of American and Canadian chain supermarkets, from the 1920s through the turn of the century and beyond. This is not a site about current supermarket issues and operations, and it is not connected with nor owned by any supermarket chain. Here’s what you will find:
- About the site: Learn more about the history of supermarkets, your humble host, and my methodology, not to mention sources and links, and frequent questions.
- Places: Detailed histories of the geography and architecture of chain grocery retailers in the U.S. and Canada since the 1920s. This is the most intensively researched part of the site.
- Chains: Capsule histories of some North American supermarket chains, including photo galleries.
- The message board: A place to discuss the history of supermarkets and other retailers.
On 5 July 1999, this store at 647 Irving Street, which I mistakenly believed might have been the first Safeway in San Francisco, became the first bit of chain grocery history I featured on the web (albeit at a different website) thereby launching what would become Groceteria.com a few months later — and indirectly launching my career as a librarian as well.
Here’s the specific quote:
Last, how many people know (or care) that the humble store on Irving Street pictured above was most likely the first Safeway store in San Francisco, way back in 1927? Even better, how many people will believe me (or care) when I say that there used to be Piggly Wiggly stores here in the 1930s?
I’d ventured to the San Francisco Public Library a few weeks earlier to look at city directories and satisfy my curiosity about the history of Safeway stores in the city where I lived at the time, and my surprising and fascinating discoveries led me to do research on the locations of all chain grocers in San Francisco. I then started taking pictures, eventually started doing this research in other cities, and an obsession was born. Now in its twentieth year, the website — which didn’t go live until 8 November 1999, so I guess I get to celebrate another twentieth anniversary in a few months — documents cities in all fifty U.S. states and all ten Canadian provinces.
Incidentally, I also found myself working in libraries so much and accessing digitized materials that I eventually decided I wanted to make providing access to historical materials my life’s work as well, so ten years later I found myself with a master’s degree and a new career. The latter put the site on the back burner for a few years, but once I got tenure, I returned with a vengeance.
Anyway, thanks for hanging around so long!
Updates coming fast and free (literally) and as always you can see them more quickly via Twitter:
- Anchorage AK
- Phoenix AZ
- Redding CA
- Honolulu/Oahu HI
- Grand Rapids MI (includes new archival material and location updates)
- Columbus OH (includes new archival material with more to come)
- Spokane WA
As many of you know, the only resource I trust for full-scale research on locations is the city directory. Telephone directories are not really helpful, particularly for large cities. They tend to be incomplete, and often have no location information at all for some chains. In some cases, city directories have been digitized and published online. Some of these are on free, open-access sites like the Internet Archives, usually done as part of library digitization projects (which is may day job, interestingly enough) while others are behind a paywall at Ancestry.com.
In too many cases, the library-digitized volumes stop at 1963 due to copyright issues which may or may not actually apply. The directories at Ancestry, while helpful, are something of a mess. Often, most of a directory is missing because only one of the two reels of microfilm from which it was taken was scanned. It is safe to say not all the relevant material (or in some cases any of it) is available online. So it often comes down to print directories for me. That’s why I haunt public libraries whenever I travel.
That’s also why, two weeks ago, I visited the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Their genealogy center is perhaps the biggest open repository of print city directories in the country, and most of them are from the post-1960 period that other sources lack. I spent two days there and shot 1500 page images with my phone. This will allow me to complete numerous cities for which I only have limited data (Portland OR, New Orleans, Dallas, Spokane). It will also allow me to start several new cities like Seattle, Kansas City, St Louis, Milwaukee, and Houston. It should be a fun twentieth anniversary year for the site!
Sadly, a few cities will probably never be fully represented here simply because the city directories for those cities ceased publication before 1940. Specifically, this means New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia. There are numerous other cities, mostly in the northeast and midwest, where directories ceased in the 1960s (Newark, Baltimore) or 1970s (Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Portland ME). This is unfortunate. Maybe I’ll find another resource for these cities. Or maybe someone else will.
I’m thinking of posting a wish list of cities where I need scans (or photos) of directory pages for certain years. I’ll also be updating the coming attractions page soon. If you want to help with another city, here’s the scoop on my methodology.
Thanks for stopping by!
The full collection of blog entries and site updates.