Greensboro’s 1940 population stood at 59,300, making it the fourth largest city in North Carolina. Durham had edged into third place late in the 1930s. But Greensboro during the war years was a lively place, with a major army base located on the eastern side of town. And after the war, its colleges and factories attracted many returning GIs.
Through the 1940s, grocery retailing in Greensboro continued to be largely clustered in the downtown area, with many new stores continuing to open just blocks from the center of town. Only A&P had much of a suburban presence; outlying areas were largely served by small curb markets instead of large supermarkets. In fact, every chain grocery location in Greensboro was within 2 1/2 miles of downtown as late as 1949; most were within a mile or so.
A&P entered the 1940s with ten Greensboro locations, six of which dated from before 1930. The newest store was the modern 1938 supermarket on Commerce Place. During the war, two of the oldest locations closed, while no new stores were constructed.
The first store constructed after World War II was actually a replacement store. In the summer of 1946, the Commerce Place supermarket burned to the ground. It was replaced by a sleek new store at the same site, which opened on 16 June 1947. The new 13,500 square foot store featured six food departments and offered 2500 items. A key feature was the 55-foot self-service case for produce items. A&P operated out of leased space in the city curb market next door during construction.
In addition to the replacement store on Commerce Place, new stores opened at 2113 Walker Avenue (1947) and 110 Asheboro Street (1948). The Walker Avenue location was a relocation of a branch a few doors down, while the Asheboro Street store replaced three southside locations dating from the 1920s and early 1930s.
However, two pre-1930 locations survived the 1940s: one at 823 East Market, in a predominantly black section of town, and one in a streamline building with curved glass brick at at 901 West Lee Street.
In 1940, a merger with Rogers Stores of Atlanta transformed the David Pender Grocery Company into Colonial Stores Inc., and starting in 1947, all stores in the chain were rebranded under the new name. The 1937 Big Star supermarket at Washington and South Greene Streets was that chain’s only outlet in Greensboro through most of the 1940s. Late in the decade, however, a new Colonial supermarket opened on the north end of Greene Street at Lindsay, approximately six blocks north of the existing store. Interestingly, the earlier store would outlast the later one.
Piggly Wiggly’s Greensboro operation was a casualty of World War II. By 1947, the six stores from 1940 were no more. The chain would reappear in the 1950s in a limited way, under the ownership of the Ivory Store chain. Ivory itself peaked in 1940 with six locations. By 1947, it had abandoned all but its two Walker Avenue locations, one of them a few blocks east of Woman’s College and one a few blocks west, across from the new A&P on Walker Avenue.
One innovative newcomer in 1948 was Ralph’s Food Palace on what was then a largely undeveloped Lawndale Drive near Cornwallis. Locally-owned Ralph’s was the first food store in the area, and served the up and coming Irving Park and Kirkwood areas. It would be only the first among many in the area.