Entry in progress—B.P.
A supermarket is a self-service store offering a wide variety of food and household merchandise, organized into departments. It is larger in size and has a wider selection than a traditional grocery store and it is smaller than a hypermarket or superstore.
The supermarket typically comprises meat, fresh produce, dairy, and baked goods departments along with shelf space reserved for canned and packaged goods as well as for various nonfood items such as household cleaners, pharmacy products, and pet supplies. Most supermarkets also sell a variety of other household products that are consumed regularly, such as alcohol (where permitted), household cleaning products, medicine, clothes, and some sell a much wider range of nonfood products.
In the early days of retailing, all products generally were fetched by an assistant from shelves behind the merchant’s counter while customers waited in front of the counter and indicated the items they wanted. Also, most foods and merchandise did not come in the individually wrapped consumer-size packages that we take for granted today, so an assistant had to measure out and wrap the precise amount desired by the consumer. These practices were by nature very labor-intensive and therefore also quite expensive. The shopping process was slow, as the number of customers who could be attended to at one time was limited by the number of clerks employed in the store.
The concept of a self-service grocery store was developed by American entrepreneur Clarence Saunders and his Piggly Wiggly stores. His first store opened in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1916. Saunders was awarded a number of patents for the ideas he incorporated into his stores. The stores were a financial success and Saunders began to offer franchises. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) was another successful early grocery store chain in Canada and the United States, and became common in North American cities in the 1920s. The general trend in retail since then has been to stock shelves at night so that customers, the following day, can obtain their own goods and bring them to the front of the store to pay for them. Although there is a higher risk of shoplifting, the costs of appropriate security measures ideally will be outweighed by the increased economies of scale and reduced labor costs.
Early self-service grocery stores did not sell fresh meats or produce. Combination stores that sold perishable items were developed in the 1920s.
According to the Smithsonian Institution, the first true supermarket in the United States was opened by a former Kroger employee, Michael J. Cullen, on August 4, 1930, inside a 6,000 square foot (560 m²) former garage in Jamaica, Queens in New York City. The store, King Kullen, (inspired by the fictional character King Kong), operated under the slogan “Pile it high. Sell it low.” At the time of Cullen’s death in 1941, there were seventeen King Kullen stores in operation.
Other established American grocery chains in the 1930s, such as Kroger and Safeway, at first resisted Cullen’s idea, but eventually were forced to build their own supermarkets as the economy sank into the Great Depression and consumers became price-sensitive at a level never experienced before. Kroger took the idea one step further and pioneered the first supermarket surrounded on all four sides by a parking lot.
30 June 1922, Salt Lake (UT) Telegram, pg. 16 ad:
“THE SUPER MARKET”
24 November 1922, Salt Lake (UT) Telegram, pg. 18 ad:
16 January 1926, Salt Lake (UT) Tribune, pg. 2, col. 7 ad:
Z.C.M.I. SUPER MARKET
7 February 1927, Mexia (TX) Weekly Herald, pg. 2, col. 5:
Several cities are drafting plans for new produce supermarkets to help get perishable foods from farms to dining tables faster, cheaper and fresher.
23 August 1931, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 6-O, col. 8:
Oakland Is Headquarters
For Series of Stores in
Petaluma, Aug. 22.—A chain of “super” markets is being established in northern California by the City Properties Co., Inc. of Oakland, with headquarters at 1736 Franklin avenue. The company is now operating the California Public Market, largest in San Jose.
“A chain of ‘super’ markets, conducted by experienced market operators, can affect substantial economies in the distribution of foods,” Hullinger states. “These savings, passed on to the public, attract sufficient patronage to provide improved service,” he added.
20 September 1931, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. O7, col. 2:
New Public Market Will Open Here
Comprising the ground floor and basement of the Persian Gardens building at Webster street and Grand avenue, a “Super Market” will open within the next few weeks in this location. The market will have 22,000 square feet of space, and there will also be 18,000 feet of parking space for patrons on a site running through from Grand avenue to Twenty-first street. The market will contain fourteen departments, and will be known as the Grand-Webster Public Market.
15 November 1931, Los Angeles (CA)
, pg. D3:
The Norwood supermarket, southeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Normandie avenue, was opened yesterday. It is owned by A. C. Jones, formerly president of the Piggly-Wiggly stores.
1 February 1933, New York (NY) Times, pg. 32:
“Super-Markets” Worry Grocers.
Development of “super-markets,” a new type of distribution in the grocery field, is causing deep concern to manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in the food trades. These markets specialize in price slashing on nationally known brands of merchandise and are understood to be cutting deeply into the normal volume of chain and independent grocery stores. To date, an executive of a large grocery manufacturing company admitted yesterday, no means of combating the “super-market” competition has been developed. In one medium-size community in New Jersey a market recently opened is reputed to be doing a volume of business which will total more than $5,000,000 annually.
5 February 1933, Washington (DC) Post, “Shannon & Luchs Report Leases,” pg. R1:
Shannon & Luchs Co. announced last week the leasing of store premises 710-12 Eleventh street northwest to the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. for a long term of years at an undisclosed rental. After extensive alterations, the first floor of the property is to be occupied as one of the company’s super markets, while the upper floors will be used by Station WMAL as a studio for radio broadcasting.
23 May 1965, New York (NY) Herald Tribune, pg. 38, col. 5:
Samuel Cooke, “Father of the Supermarket”
He started what he said was the first self-service food store, in West Philadelphia in the (Co. 6—ed.) 1930s. There have been other claimants of the honor, but there is no doubt that Mr. Cooke was a pioneer in the supermarket business.
That first store grew into the Penn. Fruit Co., which has little to do with fruit, but had a chain of 80 food stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and New York. There are seven such self-service Penn Fruit supermarkets in the metropolitan New York area.