Edgewater Grocery Stores 1890-2000
Vol. XXII No. 3 - WINTER 2011
By: LeRoy Blommaert
The historic pattern of grocery store development in Edgewater follows that of many of Chicago communities as they developed. First there was one – there was always a first one. Then it was followed by another, then a few more; and then as the community was built up, there were many. A further phase was the coming of the major chains – A&P, National and Jewel. They in turn were followed by other chains, such as Kroger, Eagle and Dominick’s. The early chains were not that much larger than the individually owned stores and at first they occupied storefronts in existing buildings rather than buildings of their own construction. The next phase was the construction of larger stores by the chains. While generally larger than the earlier storefronts, they were certainly nothing like the large supermarkets that we have today. The last phase was the domination in terms of sales by the chains. And they became big, really big as compared with their earlier predecessors and current competitors, and in their expansion they became not just grocery stores, but meat markets, bakeries, delicatessens, and later pharmacies, coffee shops, photo processing centers and even branch banks as well – all under one roof, and, reflecting the change in society’s transportation habits, they came with plenty of off street parking.
Grocery shopping in urban areas was quite different at the start of the 20th century, and even in the 1930s, than it is today. It was different in several respects. One, people shopped more often; in an age before reliable refrigeration they had to, at least for perishables. A daily trip was not uncommon. Two, they walked rather than drove. Car ownership was not as widespread as it is today and grocery stores were plentiful and within reasonable walking distance. Three, it was the women who shopped; it was part of the “job” along with cleaning and cooking and washing clothes. Four, shoppers went to specialty stores: that were usually close to each other: the grocery store, the meat market, the fish market, the bakery, and the delicatessen. And five, there was no self-service. That would come later, an innovation introduced by the chains. The shopper would tell the clerk what she wanted and he would get it for her and then add up the bill. Credit was often given too.
While Edgewater followed the familiar pattern, there was at least one way that it differed from other, older neighborhoods, and that was that Edgewater’s grocery stores, with only a few known exceptions, were all on commercial streets or immediately adjacent, and not within residential neighborhoods. Clark Street between Foster and Bryn Mawr saw an initially heavy concentration; another area was Clark between Ridge and Norwood and each of the streets east of Broadway with an “L” station had at least one – Berwyn, Bryn Mawr, Thorndale, and Granville. And then Devon Avenue between Broadway and Clark, another shopping area, also saw several. Only west of Clark street, and on Glenwood, Bryn Mawr, and Ridge in the central core were grocers found on non-commercial streets.
Edgewater’s first grocery store appropriately enough began in Edgewater’s first commercial building – the Guild Hall built by Cochran in 1886 and designed by Joseph L. Silsbee at the southwest corner of Bryn Mawr and Winthrop. The store, which first opened between May 1891 and June 1892, was a partnership of William J. Marshall and William F. Wilson. Both partners lived at separate quarters within a short walk from the store. Sometime between July 1895 and June 1896, the company became known as the William Marshall Co. and Wilson had been replaced by James McManus. The City Directory for 1897 shows that the store had moved across the street to what is now 1102 Bryn Mawr. The City Directory for 1898 shows that grocery store was in the name of James McManus alone.
Edgewater’s first grocery store was also one of Edgewater’s longest operating independent grocers, ending only in 1936, only after a fire destroyed the building in which it was located. The Society has a number of items from this first grocery store including a number of old photographs, one of which is reproduced here. (See figure #1).
Edgewater’s second grocery store came a year or less after the first and was not very far away. It was the Dole Company (apparently a partnership of William L. and George A. Dole) and was located on “Evanston Avenue near Bryn Mawr.” The 1893 City Directory shows George Dole as living at the southwest corner of Bryn Mawr and Evanston, though working downtown as a bookkeeper. Given what little had been constructed at that time in the area, the store was either in the same building (which had been built the previous year by John C. Scovel) or else it was in the frame business structure to the north at the northwest corner of Broadway and Ridge. In any event, it did not last very long. It is not listed in the 1896 City Directory.
The third grocery store followed closely behind coming in 1894 or 1895, but further west at what is now 5706 Clark. The proprietor was Charles C. Schuette, who was also the owner of the building which had been built in 1894. Interestingly, the 1900 City Directory shows the grocer at this address being a William Heidman, but in 1903 and 1905 the store is back in the name of Charles Schuette. In 1915, the store owner is given as Gerhard Meyer. This address is absent from the list of grocers in the 1923 City Directory. Remarkably, this very early frame store and flat building still stands, though considerably (and badly) altered.
The City Directories show 2 grocery stores in Edgewater in 1893, 3 in 1894, 3 in 1896, 2 in 1900, 9 in 1903, 13 in 1905, 30 in 1910, 39 in 1915, 44 in 1923, and 56 in 1928. In August 1935, there were 41 retail grocers. By way of comparison there were 41 in 1994 and 24 in 2008. Thus 1928 appears to the “high water” point for grocery stores in Edgewater. (See figure #2 for a map showing where they were located.)
There was considerable turnover in grocery stores during the early years. Of the 13 stores operating in 1905, only three were operating under the same owners in Edgewater five years later in 1910; and of the 30 stores operating in 1910, only eight were still operating in Edgewater in 1915. Of the 39 grocers operating in 1915, only 12 were still operating in Edgewater eight years later in 1923. Two had moved outside of Edgewater. The remaining 25 had ceased operations altogether. Only two grocers were in operation for the entire 18 year period from 1905 to 1923 – the Edgewater Grocery operated by James McManus on Bryn Mawr and the Meltzer Brothers grocery store in the 5500 block of Broadway.
The coming of the chains
The first chain to establish a presence in Edgewater was not one of the major, well-known Tea companies – A&P, National or Jewel. It was one that had a very short life, in Edgewater and in Chicago. The United Food Product Company started in 1911 and ended in 1911. In its short life it had 23 stores in Chicago, of which three were in Edgewater: 5551 Broadway, 6016 Broadway (then called Evanston Ave) and 5235 Clark. In August 1911, the chain was acquired by another chain, the Hazel Pure Food Company – an event that would be repeated by different players again and again. The Chicago Tribune article of August 18, 1911, that dealt with the take over described the stores appearance and operation. The stores were uniform in appearance, “with bright red fronts and gilt lettering. From the beginning, novel methods of getting business have been followed. Everything was sold in sealed packages. The housewife got her potatoes in a sealed sack, her bread wrapped in tissue paper, sealed at the bakery, her cuts of meat encased in a sealed parcel.” The Hazel Pure Food Company apparently abandoned the neighborhood stores, for there is only one listing for the company in 1912.
The second chain to establish one or more stores in Edgewater was the Piggly Wiggly chain, with a store at 6175-77 Broadway in 1919. The chain grew rapidly in Chicago with 43 stores in April 1920 and 59 in August of the same year. But it too was short-lived. In 1923 it sold its Chicago stores to National Tea.
National Tea appears to be the next major chain to establish a presence in Edgewater and, unlike the first two, it established a long presence. The 1928 city directory identifies 18 stores in Edgewater. There were no other chains. By August 1935, National Tea had but five stores, all but one at a different location than in 1928. The four new stores appear to have been in buildings newly built for National. (In the summer of 1930 National had but one store in Edgewater.) Jewel Tea had only two stores in 1935, as did A&P. However, National bounced back and in 1940 had 16 stores in Edgewater. In 1953, National had 5, Jewel had 4, and A&P had 1.
Jewel never had more than five stores in Edgewater at any one time; A&P never had more than two as did Kroger. One Kroger store was located at the southwest corner of Thorndale and Broadway in a new yellow brick building (5930). The author remembers as a youngster being fascinated by a new device in the store that he had never seen before that allowed for cans to slide down an incline when the can at the bottom was removed (an operation which he did several times to see it happen). Kroger later closed this store after it opened a bigger one at 6125 Broadway on August 1, 1962.
Table-1 shows the number of major chain stores in Edgewater at various times. (The number in parentheses is the number of stores in the city.)
|Table 1: Chain Stores by Year|
|1960||2 (99)||0||1||3 (101)||1 (25)||2 (109)|
|1970||2 (26)||0||0||3 (102)||1 (14)||3 ( 83)|
|1980||0 (32)||3||0||2||0||0 (0)|
Table-2 shows the minimum number of different locations for each chain during the time it operated in Edgewater. As expected, National led the pack by a wide margin.
|Table 2: Number of Chain Stores|
|Name of Chain||Number of
|A & P||6|
|United Food Products||3|
Not all of the chains to establish a presence in Edgewater were major national or regional ones, or later developed into ones. Some were quite small and located in Chicago only. Two such chains were Sure-Save and Treasure Island. Both of these were formed by Christ Kamberos. He started the Sure-Save chain in 1947 with his brother. The first store of the 10-store chain was in Edgewater at 1055 Bryn Mawr. In 1961 the chain was sold to the National Tea Co. In 1963, again with his brother and a group of partners, he founded a new chain, Treasure Island. The first store was at 3460 N. Broadway. The Edgewater store was at 5245 N. Broadway. It was open from April 5, 1973 to March 20, 1986.
The present configuration of Edgewater’s four major supermarkets (two Jewels and two Dominick’s) began to take shape in 1958. That’s when Eagle opened its store at 6009 Broadway (October 15) and Jewel opened its store at 5518 Clark (December 6). The Eagle store would be purchased by Dominick’s in 1965 which would later expand the store considerably in 1997-1998. The grand opening was July 15, 1998. Jewel would also either modernize its store at 5518 or else build a new one on the same site in 1975. What actually happened is not clear. On March 31, 1977, Jewel would open another store at 5343 N. Broadway on the site of the former Lill Coal and Oil Company.
The last of the four was constructed by Dominick’s in 1978 at 5235 Sheridan Rd (Grand Opening December 18) . In 2010 Dominick’s demolished this store and built a larger new one at 5201 Sheridan. The Grand Opening was in 2011.
Although the chains increasingly dominated in terms of sales, they never dominated in terms of the number of stores devoted to the sale of food items. Even as of this writing, there are more independently operated grocery stores and produce markets than chain stores. Some of these are ethnic in orientation. Then too, there are other places that sell food items in addition to other items – drug stores and gas stations readily come to mind. And then there are the small convenient stores, such as 7-11 and White Hen.
And what happened to those first chain mini-supermarket buildings – the one story buildings that they constructed or rented for their use in the 1930s, 40s and 50s? A few, of course, have been razed. The Jewel that this author’s mother shopped at (6016-18 Clark) is long gone. The land is now part of the Fire Department complex. But most have remained, given over to other uses for the most part. Table 3 is a partial list.
|Table 3: Locations of Chain Stores|
|Broadway, 5930||Kroger||Medical Center|
|Broadway, 6116||National||Quicker Printers|
|Broadway, 6125||Kroger||Multi-use, including
|Bryn Mawr, 1055||National||7-Eleven|
|Bryn Mawr, 1100||A&P||Nookie’s Restaurant|
|Bryn Mawr, 1130||Jewel||Shoe Center and
|Clark, 5306||Kroger||Charlie’s Sweets|
|Clark, 5343||Jewel||Calo Restaurant|
|Clark, 5446||A&P||Thybony Paint Store
|Clark, 5951||National||Martial Arts Center|
|Clark, 6132||National||Auto repair|
|Clark, 6157||Kroger||Raven Theater|
|Devon, 1549||Jewel||Animal Hospital|
|Granville, 1125||Jewel||Gerber Hart Library|
|Granville, 1127||National||U’n Joy Beauty|
|Thorndale, 1132||A&P||Dove East Cleaners|
What grocery store was in business the longest in Edgewater? That’s not so easy to answer. The factor of longevity can be measured in a number of different ways. Here are several: What family or organization has operated a grocery store in Edgewater, regardless of location, for the longest period of time. Here the answer has to be Jewel. It has had a grocery store in Edgewater since at least August of 1935 and still does today (a total of 76 years). What address was operated continuously as a grocery regardless of company for the longest period of time? The answer appears to be 6157 Clark. It opened as a Kroger store as early as 1950 (perhaps even earlier) and was operated by different companies through 2008, for a total of 58 years. It is now the home of the Raven Theater. The runner up appears to be 6009 N. Broadway. It opened as an Eagle store in 1958 and still is occupied by a grocery (Dominick’s since June 1965) for a total of 53 years. In five years 6009 Broadway will take the title, for this address is still in operation as a grocery. What building was operated continuously as a grocer by the same family or organization without expansion? Here the answer appears to be 5343 N. Broadway, which has been operated by Jewel Foods since March 1977. If the building had been expanded the answer appears to be 6009 N. Broadway, which has been operated by Dominick’s since 1965.
All told, there were, at a minimum, 340 distinct addresses in Edgewater that at one time housed a business classified as a retail grocer. When this article is posted on our website, it will include a list of all these addresses, as well as separate tables for all of the chain stores.
Click here for a list of grocers sorted by address then date
Click here for a list of grocers by name then date
Click here for a list of grocers by date then name.
Click here for a list of the abbreviations used for sources
The Edgewater Grocery Stores exhibit features an unusual item from the first Edgewater store., a Van Berkel meat slicer. The slicer was invented by Wilhelmus Adrianus Van Berkel in Holland in 1898. It was a complex, hand-driven mechanical machine that revolutionized the task of meat slicing. It moved meat-slicing beyond a sharp knife, a good eye and a steady hand. Within years, thousands were being sold worldwide and a factory was located in the United States in 1909 [first in Chicago then from 1915 in LaPorte, Indiana]. The first model of the slicer produced in the U.S. was Model 70, and the McManus slicer seems to be one of them.
Our VanBerkel meat slicer was acquired from the estate of Dorothy McManus by LeRoy Blommaert in 1998. It was in sorry shape and the reason it was saved in Dorothy’s basement is cause for speculation. It must have been an important piece of equipment at the store the store at 1102 West Bryn Mawr. It may have survived the fire (1936) at the store although it showed no sign of being in a fire. Nevertheless, it was brought to the museum and then there were many discussions of how to deal with this 200 lb. artifact.
Enter Tom Murphy, a man with many skills and great curiosity. Tom undertook to move the slicer out of the shed to his home basement and began taking it apart. In the exhibit you can see photos of the results of his endeavors. It was unclear how to proceed next, but Tom was convinced that this artifact could have some restoration and be made operable. He worked to polish the metal plate identifying the manufacturer, U.S. Slicing Machine Co. in La Porte Indiana. When the idea for a Grocery store exhibit came up, Tom was already in the process of working on the slicer. Exhibit curator asked about the slicer and learned that it was a possibility for an exhibit.
With some experimentation and research over the course of several months, a lot of steel wool and naval jelly [solvent to remove abundant congealed meat fat and fiber still present], and a final application of automobile wax, the slicer was back in business.
The tray that carries the meat to the blade is missing but the intact features remain operable. These include a concave blade to slice cleanly; a heavy fly-wheel to smooth the operation; a complex mechanism to advance the meat into the blade, with the thickness of the slice being adjustable; and a built-in apparatus to sharpen the intact blade. even with all of the rust and deterioration, the blade was still sharp enough to easily cut a finger, Tom says.
Come in and give it a good crank!