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Supermartifacts / The Artifacts of Kroger

[Kroger logo]

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

The Kroger Company traces its origins to a Cincinnati coffee and tea store that opened its doors in 1883. The chain expanded through the 1920s and 1930s to encompass much of the southeast and midwest, which still forms the basis of its trade area today. The company also took part in large-scale acquisitions, absorbing companies such as Krambo (Wisconsin) in 1955, Dillons (Kansas) in 1985, and the Fred Meyer/Ralphs chains (with stores up and down the west coast) in 1998. Apart from Krambo, however, most of these acquired chains are outside the focus of these pages.

Of the four large grocery chains covered on this site (together with A&P, Safeway, and Loblaws), Kroger is the only company that has never operated in Canada. Nevertheless, most of my formative "grocery memories" in the US were forged within the walls of Kroger stores. The company also built a number of distinctive and identifiable store designs, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, and these are assessed here.

Unless noted otherwise, all photos on these pages were taken by Andrew Turnbull over a period of more than 10 years.


Grocery warehouse

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

634 W. Main St., Madison, WI
2012

This building might not be a supermarket, but it's notable for its historical grocery merit nevertheless. This four-story warehouse was constructed for the Gould, Wells & Blackburn wholesale grocery outlet in either 1915 or 1917 (sources vary). The business was subsequently absorbed into the Universal Grocery Company and eventually the Kroger Grocery & Baking Company of Ohio, which expanded into Wisconsin by acquiring Universal in 1928.

In 2009, the old warehouse was renovated as office space and signs were erected noting the property's former role as part of the grocery biz years before, including a 1930s-era sign off an actual Kroger grocery store. Since Kroger in 2012 hadn't operated in this part of the country for 40 years, it was an odd jolt to see the name there.


Storefront stores

As with other retail businesses, Kroger's presence in the first half of the 20th century consisted largely of small stores housed on the first floors of downtown apartment buildings, and frontage in "streetcar strips."

[Kroger store]

2136 Regent St., Madison, WI
2013

This storefront in Madison has housed a food store of some kind or another continuously from 1923 to present, a remarkable feat! It also had a long early history as a Universal and Kroger location, operating as such from 1 Feb. 1924 to 1946.

[Kroger store]

1354 Williamson St., Madison, WI
2012

This single-story pair housed another of Madison's long-lived early Universal and Kroger stores, operating from the 1920s to the early 1950s.

[Kroger store]

301 W. Johnson St., Madison, WI
2017

Yet another extant Madison building confirmed as a former Kroger location, opening on 23 Oct. 1935. This location is listed as "245 State St." in old directories. A picture from the first night of operation is viewable here.

[Kroger store]

117 E. Main St., Northville, MI
2019

This storefront was the site of a Kroger store that opened in the 1930s and lasted in operation until 1951, when a modern supermarket opened down the street.

[Kroger store]

910 Washington St., Manitowoc, WI
2017

Opened as Kroger circa 1940; rebranded as Krambo in 1955, and replaced in 1959.

[Kroger store]

1205 Mercer St., Princeton, WV
2008

Opened 25 Jan. 1951 (very late in the storefront era); replaced in 1962. A ghost sign on the side still bears the Kroger name to this day.


Early purpose-built stores

In the 1930s and 1940s, the grocery industry underwent a transition from small service stores to larger self-service supermarkets that offered dry goods, produce, and meats under one roof. This also precipitated a physical transition from small storefronts to larger standalone stores.

Most Kroger stores of the 1940s and early 1950s were built of red brick, and continued to be located adjacent to downtown areas. By the late 1950s, blonde brick became more common, and stores began migrating from city grids to shopping centres.

[Kroger store]

704 S. Main St., Ann Arbor, MI
2019

Opened February 1942; replaced by 1951. This building continues to stand today in perfectly intact condition, and now houses a 7-Eleven convenience store.

[Kroger store]

205 North St., Bluefield, WV
2008

Opened 14 Sep. 1950; replaced in 1969.

[Kroger store]

215 E. Main St., Northville, MI
1955 (from the family photo album)

This building was actually constructed in 1946 as a farm implement dealership, before being converted and remodeled into a Kroger supermarket that opened on 29 Aug. 1951. Replaced in 1961. Later an A&P; destroyed by fire in 1976.

[Kroger store]

2111 Packard St., Ann Arbor, MI
2019

Opened by 1951; replaced in 1973. In the 1990s, this building was home to a branch of the People's Food Co-Op.

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

1335 24th St., Port Huron, MI
2019

This store is situated in the U.S.-Canada border town of Port Huron, and features an interesting embellishment: A massive L-shaped pylon jutting from the roof. This was actually a consistent chainwide store design used by Kroger in 1953-54, and nearly identical stores from that era stand in Winston-Salem and Burlington, North Carolina. Replaced in the 1970s.

[Kroger store]

755 State St., Caro, MI
2019

This is an unusual specimen: An early 1950s store with barrel roof and corrugated front facade, expanded and re-facaded as a superstore in the 1970s with the divisions between old and new remaining clearly separable! This store closed in 1984, signifying the company's exit from the "thumb" of the state.

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

9112 MacCorkle Ave., Marmet, WV
1954 (Charleston Daily Mail), 2011

Opened 1 Sept. 1954; replaced in the 1980s. This structure has indications of being expanded early in its operational history.

[Kroger store] [Kroger store] [Kroger store]

23001 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, MI
2019

This store opened by 1955, predating the shopping centre it stands adjacent to by a number of years! Typical of early 1950s stores, it was built with a arched barrel roof...plainly visible in front. The original configuration is most apparent in back, where the original blonde brick colouring is also visible. In the 1970s it gained a massive expansion and renovation into the superstore design, and these elements also remain intact. The cube sign added during the store's 1970s renovation has been reused by the current tenant.

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

1502 N. Main St., Bloomington, IL
2010

This store opened 14 Nov. 1956. It was subsequently expanded and remodeled, and survives in operation today. The original configuration is more apparent from the rear of the store, where the barrel roof is also visible.

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

7552 W. Oklahoma Ave., West Allis, WI
1956 (newspaper ad illustration), 2010

Opened 13 Dec. 1956 as a Krambo store under Kroger ownership; closed in 1971 due to Kroger's exit from Wisconsin. Note the protruding sign, which was implemented on a number of stores built in the late-1950s timeframe. Though the building in 2010 was still accurate to its supermarket-era appearance, it has since been gutted and de facto rebuilt.

[Kroger store]

1410 E. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti, MI
2016

Opened in or before 1958; replaced in the early 1980s. Note the protruding sign.

[Kroger store]

1810 E. 10th St., Indianapolis, IN
2009

Opened 1958; closed in 2007. (I tried taking a picture of the store itself, but it didn't turn out.)

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

1100 S. 30th St., Manitowoc, WI
1959 (newspaper ad illustration), 2009

Opened 2 Feb. 1959 as a Krambo store under Kroger ownership; closed in 1971 due to Kroger's exit from Wisconsin. Later A&P and Sentry. And, yet another example of a store with a protruding sign...

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

1420 Vine St., Cincinnati, OH
2013

Opened circa 1960, and located a mere four blocks from Kroger's headquarters in downtown Cincinnati. Although difficult to discern in the photograph, the rear half of the store appears to have been hollowed out from the lower level of a pre-existing 3-story warehouse.

[Kroger store]

10620 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit, MI
2019

This store was built in 1960, and features an unusual side facade with rectangular decorations. It closed as Kroger in 1984, when the company disinvested in Detroit by closing all its stores within the city's limits. It was subsequently reoccupied by an independent grocer, which remains in business today.

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

1100 Mercer St., Princeton, WV
1962 (newspaper ad photo), 1985 (from the family photo album)

Opened 26 June 1962; replaced in 1977. Demolished circa 2000.

[Kroger store]

252 N. Main St., White Hall, IL
2016

This tiny Kroger store is one of several that survive in downstate Illinois. If memory serves me right, there were no more than six aisles and two checkout stands in the entire store. (Apologies for the quality...the sunset wreaked havoc with the photo lighting.)

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

240 N. Main St., Plymouth, MI
1978 (Plymouth Community Crier), 2019

This store was built by 1964, operating as Kroger until closing in July 1984. A SupeRx drugstore briefly operated side-by-side in the 1970s.

This store was also the scene of the Great Meat Robbery of 1980.

[Kroger store]

303 Ohio Ave., Charleston, WV
2011

Opened 21 Sep. 1965. Note the "superstore arches" that were tacked onto the facade in the 1970s.

[Kroger store] [Kroger store] [Kroger store]

604 E. Main St., Warrenton, MO
2016

This relic of the 1960s was one of a mere four Kroger stores operating in Missouri, and it just might have been my favourite of the bunch. It was larger than the White Hall store, and bore 1970s-era superstore flooring. Unfortunately, this store closed for the last time in June 2019.

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

8999 Macomb St., Grosse Ile Twp., MI
2019

This is a 1960s-built store serving the archipelago of Grosse Ile Township. It's gone through several renovations over the years, most recently in 2003 when it received a new canopy facade and conversion into the company's "Fresh Fare" concept. Look closely, however, and you'll notice that the original 1960s three-tier windows and fieldstone accents are still intact on the front wall!

[Kroger store]

4626 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN
2019

The Kroger Company of Ohio once had stores in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "What?!", you say. "That's preposterous!" But it's true.

Between 1960 and 1970, four Kroger stores opened their doors in the city of Minneapolis. All four had closed by 1975, as the company cut its losses and bailed from the area. Yet, two of the buildings still stand: This one on Nicollet straddling the King Field and Tangletown neighbourhoods, and an identical store on 3010 Penn Ave. Both buildings feature a three-tier window arrangement and fieldstone wall accents, and both they and the Grosse Isle Township store would have looked identical at one time.

[Kroger store]

2021 Broadway, Fort Wayne, IN
2016

Confirmed as a Kroger location in a 1972 directory.

[Kroger store] [Kroger store]

3032 E. Cumberland Rd., Bluefield, WV
1969 (Bluefield Daily Telegraph), 2008

Opened 29 Apr. 1969; closed without replacement in 2012. Originally featured an adjacent SupeRx store.

Continued...







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