News & Updates

These are the latest blog updates. Click on the title to read the full article.

More regular updates can be found on the Twitter Feed and the Message Board.

The “official” anniversary

Groceteria.com began its life as a freestanding website twenty years ago today, following the foreshadowing contained in blog post on another site four months earlier.

Originally, the site was more about specific chains and photos, and the location lists were limited to a few cities in California (where I lived at the time) and North Carolina (where I was born and raised and where I currently live). I added a message board early on and upgraded it significantly in 2007. The blog came in 2005. By 2009, I had moved the site into WordPress and also scrapped the “Did you bring bottles?” tagline, which referred to the question supermarket checkers used to ask when you bought soft drinks in the days of returnable bottle deposits.

Unfortunately for the site (but fortunately for me) I began a new career as an academic librarian in 2009, and the site languished to some extent as I got settled in my new position and eventually became a tenured faculty member who gets to work on things like this. Starting around 2014, I began to focus on the site again, but turned my attention more toward documenting locations in individual cities over time. This had been a feature since the beginning (San Francisco was the first) but it eventually became the primary focus for me. Earlier this year, the location list for Wilmington, Delaware marked the moment where every U.S. state and Canadian province was represented on the site.

Over the years, I’ve done a surprising amount of press based on the site, from neighborhood newspapers to major dailies, to NPR stations. I’ve been featured in both Progressive Grocer and Supermarket News. I’ve been cited in any number of academic articles, theses and dissertations, and National Register applications. In fact, I have far more citations based on this site than I probably ever will on anything I do in my actual academic career, which frankly amazes me.

For the record (and for those of you who want to see it in the Wayback Machine), the site didn’t have its own domain name in the beginning. That came a year later, and I was only able to obtain Groceteria.net. I scored Groceteria.com in 2003 when its previous owner abandoned it.

And I’ve met a lot of really interesting people, heard a lot of great stories, and had an amazing time over the past twenty years. Working on this site has taken me to cities and neighborhoods and libraries I might never have seen otherwise. In many ways, the site was also responsible for an entire new career for me as my work with digitized resources and websites made me realize that libraries were where I needed to spend my days, creating the very types of resources I’d been using.

Thanks for stopping by. It’s been fun. Stick around and I hope it will continue to be.

More updates. More additions.

Again, lots of new additions and updates to the location lists. I’m also slowly adding additional material (clippings, photos, other documents) to existing pages.

If you’re not following on Twitter or accessing the Message Board, you’re not getting these as quickly as you could be!

Recent additions:

Recent updates:

 

Chain store density in 1930

Interesting bit of quick research I put together about the number of chain stores per capita in some American cities in 1930. I was inspired to do this as I started working on the Detroit listings. It seemed to me that there was an inordinately high store count relative to the population, and when I compared Detroit with several other large cities, I realized I was right. Of my semi-random sample, only Atlanta and Washington had higher per capita numbers of chain stores (defined here as companies that had three or more locations) in 1930.

This is unscientific and a not very controlled “quickie” but I may do more detailed research on this over time, because I find it pretty fascinating. It wouldd be interesting to dive into the “why” at some point as well.

City

Chain Stores (1930)

Population (1930)

Per 100000 People

Atlanta

276

270366

102.08

Washington

485

486869

99.62

Detroit

1499

1568662

95.56

Cleveland

706

900429

78.41

Pittsburgh

509

669817

75.99

Buffalo

427

573076

74.51

Baltimore

473

804874

58.77

Portland OR

167

301815

55.33

Newark

395

772337

51.14

San Francisco

318

634394

50.13

Kansas City

191

399746

47.78

Denver

132

287861

45.86

St Louis

373

821960

45.38

New Orleans

155

458762

33.79

New additions and upcoming things


Ketner’s, Lexington NC

Recent additions:

There have been some major urban areas added over the past two months as well as some smaller cities and towns:

Recent updates:

Upcoming:

  • I’ll be doing a roadtrip to Detroit, Toledo, and Windsor later this week, which will result in research and pictures. Follow @GroceteriaWeb on Twitter to keep up (and to get site updates a LOT quicker).
  • I’m in the process of adding links and random materials all over the site. A major photo upgrade is still on the way as well.
  • The Queue: Upcoming additions.

 

It was twenty years ago today…

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

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!

And Delaware makes 50…

Delaware very quietly became the last new state to be represented on the site sometime yesterday afternoon. I’d hoped to get to the point of having all 50 US states and all 10 Canadian provinces represented by at least one city profile by the site’s twentieth anniversary in July. It happened sooner than that, thanks to a bit of effort (not to mention some significant help from a contributor).

This is not by any means the end of updates. In fact, it just a beginning of sorts. There are a lot more cities to add; in many states, there are other cities I’m more concerned with than the one(s) currently on the site. I’m headed out on a major research trip next week that will help me fill in some big gaps. I’m also just about done with my photo indexing project, which means I’ll start posting a lot more photos and other material in addition to the city historical data (which has been the big focus the past few years) soon.

So thanks for stopping by. And stick around! I’ll try to come up with some other surprise for the big anniversary this summer, preferably one that’s more exciting than the fact that the site is now SSL-compliant.

 

Road trip alert

Big road trip a-comin’

Since I’m doing a conference presentation in Cleveland the second week in April, I decided it would be a good jumping off point for a midwestern road trip where I’ll visit some old friends, do a big chunk of research, spend time in a city I’ve been wanting to explore more extensively for twenty years, and cover some new territory.

The intinerary:

  • Cleveland: Conference presentation and sadly not much else, but Cleveland is (relatively) close by and I get there somewhat regularly anyway.
  • Milwaukee: First visit since 1998. I’ve been threatening to spend some time there ever since and this is my chance. I’ll also be visiting a friend who recently relocated about forty miles away. I’ll also put in some time at the library, naturally.
  • Grand Rapids: I’ve never been there despite the fact that there was one point where we almost moved there when I was a youngster. I’ll be visiting an old friend from San Francisco I haven’t seen since 2006 or so.
  • Fort Wayne: This will be the hardcore research portion of the trip. There is a wonderful place there called the Genealogy Center. I don’t do genealogy, but I use many of the same tools for Groceteria. This place has a massive collection of print city directories (my primary tool) that fills in many of the (very numerous) holes in Ancestry’s collection. I’ve planned two days. I am a big geek. Plus I haven’t been there since 1997 either.

I’d also planned to spend a few days in Detroit/Windsor, but I’m backing off on that for now because I have too much going on here to be gone for that long and because I’d like to spend more time there. Thus I may merge this with the annual Thanksgiving road trip to Canada this year.

Anyhow follow Groceteria on Twitter for real-time updates. Recommendations on things to see welcome.

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