News & Updates

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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.

New Jersey and more

Just returned from a snowy weekend in New Jersey, with side trips to Philadelphia and (drum roll, please) Wilmington, Delaware? Why the drum roll? Because I now have the data in hand to complete Groceteria’s 50th state, which I promised to do by the site’s 20th anniversary this summer. That’s coming soon, but for now, here are some recent additions and updates:

The store above is a still-standing Food Fair on Brunswick Avenue in Trenton NJ. There’s another one that’s even better here.

Also, I’ll be visiting the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne next month and will be filling in a lot of holes using their massive collection of print city directories from around the country. That trip will also take me to Detroit, Toledo, and possibly Lansing and Milwaukee. More soon.

47 down, 3 to go…

Only three more states and I will have every US state and Canadian province covered on the site. I’m already working on the final three, which will be:

  • Delaware (Wilmington): I may be traveling there to do a full list in the next few months.
  • Louisiana (New Orleans): Only through 1959 for now. I will have to visit in person to do the rest.
  • Mississippi (Jackson): Same as New Orleans.

Recent additions (in no particular order):

 

Thoughts for the new year

As Groceteria.com moves into 2019, when the site celebrates its twentieth anniversary, I’m pondering (as always) the next steps toward what the site will be like in the future. Feedback is much appreciated.

So what is Groceteria.com?

As ever, this is a site about the history, geography, architecture, and business of American and Canadian chain grocers over the past one hundred years or so. The current focus is more on the geographic and “commercial archaeology” aspects of chain grocers, specifically unearthing historical location patterns and building histories. That is, of course, why the places section is the one that has really grown in the past few years; rooting out old locations (and sometimes photographing them) is the focus of my research and it’s the part I really enjoy the most. The site now covers every Canadian province and all but five American states, and I hope to complete all fifty states by my twentieth anniversary in July.

Presenting location histories is also the part that no one else is doing very intensively. Twenty years ago, there was not much on the web about chain grocery history. There’s a lot now, from photo sites to blogs to social media groups to very well-detailed (in most cases) Wikipedia entries.  I like to think this site helped start that trend, and it’s not about competition. So I want to do the part I like and am doing best, which is locations and photos. I’ve been really neglectful of the photos in recent years and I’m working on rectifying that, getting my personal collection into shape so that it can be shared more easily and logically. Until then, I do post a lot of photos via the site’s Twitter feed (I hate Instagram) so if you don’t follow that, you’re missing stuff.

The fact that there is so much great material on chain histories, photos, etc. is why I also plan to get better about providing links to these resources in a more systematic way. Right now, it’s pretty informal; I add links to pages when I think to do it and I tweet interesting sites I’ve found. I want to be better about adding them in more permanent ways.

I also hope to do more super-targeted blog posts like the ones I’ve done recently on the history of A&P and Kroger in Greensboro and maybe on interesting aspects of defunct chains, etc.

Finally, I plan to start adding more digitized versions of books and other archival material I have collected and to include links to other such material.

And what is it not?

Groceteria.com has never been (and most likely never will be) about independent and one-off grocers, rural stores, general stores, specialty stores, etc. It’s a site about urban chains. Period. I generally do not look at places with populations under about 10,000, and I primarily focus on cities or metros with more than 50,000 people.

I also do not attempt to be the definitive resource for chain company histories, particularly with respect to currently operating chains. Others are doing a better job of that than I ever could (particularly via crowd-sourced and wiki-based systems) and what I plan to do going forward is to create more pages, perhaps with some of my own information, and  link to external resources rather than try to write these histories myself.

Again, as always, this is not, no will it ever be, a site about current supermarket operations. While I’m interested in this topic, this is not the forum; there are other places that are much better suited to that and I’ve always tried to be very careful (some might say “heavy handed”, particularly where the message board is concerned) about making sure that the site stays focused on history. This will continue.

So how can you play along?

The message board is not nearly as active as it once was, despite the fact that traffic is up everywhere else on the site. I take a lot of responsibility for that; there was a period of years when I was paying very little attention to it and to the rest of the site. I imagine I also alienated some users with an overactive moderation style in the past. I stand by the reasons for that, though I regret some of my tactics. For a time, I considered shutting it down and just making the archived content available; it was not being used and I was spending a lot of time deleting spam registrations. I’ve got a handle on that now, so I’m keeping it active, even though I think it’s maybe a little anachronistic at this point. So post away!

I’ve also expanded the ability to comment on site pages. There was a technological reason for why I didn’t do that earlier, but now you can comment on blog post and on static pages. Please do!

For now, I plan to continue using flickr to host and generate photo albums. I’ve never really been a big participant in the social media component of flickr, but feel free to dive in there as well, if you like.

If you’d like to contribute location lists, photos, or other content, I’m all ears. Other readers, notably Andrew Turnbull, Wayne Henderson, and Andy San Juan have contributed material for which I am most grateful. Here’s my methodology for location research, if you’re interested.

I’m not planning to do anything with things like Facebook groups, etc., mainly because I don’t want content to be locked into a closed “members-only” ecosystem. Plus I think Facebook is a dying platform, but that’s beside the point…

And you can add your thoughts below! That would be great…

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