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Vintage Supermarket Photos
March 24, 2009 2:58 AM   Subscribe

Vintage Supermarket Photos
posted by srboisvert (43 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ahh the good ol' days - back when nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them!
posted by mannequito at 3:12 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cool post. The website has other interesting photo collections, too. Thanks!
posted by codswallop at 3:23 AM on March 24, 2009


Cool! ...although my mind went straight to the dangers of vintage (postapocalyptic) supermarkets. (The Bethesda designers must've poured over thousands of images like these.)
posted by Glee at 3:45 AM on March 24, 2009


Nice. This and the cigarette post above got me to thinking.

I used to accompany my mother to the local Kroger store when I was a wee lad. Nothing really spectacular stands out about these trips where I would tag along, hanging onto the cart, staring at the assorted packages placed at just my level, so I could better convince my mom, that, yes, we do need an industrial-sized package of Raisinets. What does stand out is the cigarette butts. They were everywhere, littering the floor in the cereal aisle, shoved up against the base of the primitive 1983-milk cooler, littering the magic carpet that opened the magic door at the entrance. Then, the people, they just stood there and smoked, mostly cigarettes, but I'm sure the pungent aroma of North Carolina-grown tobacco was a god-send to those who never quite got over their trip to Amsterdam. Standing at the meat counter waiting for the butcher to slice that ham, puffing away, if only he had one, then, only then, would the image be complete in my mind. Maybe I can just make that part up. Where did all these butts go? I wondered. Then I saw him, cigarette-dust-mopper-guy, probably just a bagboy, but to a wee lad it appeared the store had hired this individual for one task, mopping up cigarette butts (and possibly roaches [not the six-legged kind]). I watched him in some kind of childish awe. Shitty jobs seemed much cooler when you were a kid.

My how times, and my outlook has changed.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:10 AM on March 24, 2009 [7 favorites]


The MST3K crew riffed an old promotional short from Anheuser-Busch ("Manufacturers of Quality Low Temperature Cabinets") selling supermarket coolers. "The selling revolution will not be televised!"
posted by letourneau at 4:36 AM on March 24, 2009


See! It looks like there might be one next to John Goodman there . . .
posted by IvoShandor at 5:15 AM on March 24, 2009


IvoShandor: "It looks like there might be one next to John Goodman there . . ."

John Goodman is the shelf stocker. John Goodman has always been the shelf stocker.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:20 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually, not much has changed in the retail grocery business model. The stores still have long straight aisles, stacked cans and boxes of food, lots of glass in the meat department so we can see the butcher cut those steaks, and milk is still as far from the front door as possible. Maybe we can now do self-checkout, get a latte in the cafe, and pick up a salad in the prepared foods section but most Americans of 50 years ago would feel right at home in today's grocery store.
posted by birdwatcher at 5:41 AM on March 24, 2009


I want to hunt down the engineer who decided that modern cash registers have to play the ch-ching sound file when the transaction completes. If you can't come up with your own memorable sound, maybe you're not up to the job, little Mr. Beep Beep POS Terminal.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:42 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


You could have labeled this "Photos Taken at the IGA in Lou's Own Town This Very Morning" and I would only have wondered why all three of the cashiers were dressed as Howdy Doody for Halloween and it's almost April so wtf.
posted by Lou Stuells at 6:08 AM on March 24, 2009


FOOD-O-MAT!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:13 AM on March 24, 2009


... but most Americans of 50 years ago would feel right at home in today's grocery store.

I'm only 44 but I'm lost in most new supermarkets. The old ones were about 1/4 the size of the current ones with about 1/10 of the choices. There were about three different choices for each type of thing, you didn't have to stand there and figure out what you want from 75 different variations of toothpaste or shampoo. It made for much faster shopping since you only had to pick from Crest, Colgate or Ultra Bright and didn't have to worry about whether you wanted "extra whitening", "tarter control", "sensitive teeth" or whatever new marketing nonsense that they've come up with this month.
posted by octothorpe at 6:19 AM on March 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


First Picture: Keith Olbermann at the checkout counter...

Nice post. I too would accompany the mom or dad to the local Kroger, and when I was even younger, PACE(?), with its truly giant sized boxes of cereal. Also somewhat stared with awe as my mom or dad would put coffee beans in the automatic grinder and watch dust fall into the bag, and an iconic low toned buzz would tell you, you're done.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:32 AM on March 24, 2009


Full service banana weighing. With a smie at Foodomat.
posted by stbalbach at 6:35 AM on March 24, 2009


octothorpe: " There were about three different choices for each type of thing, you didn't have to stand there and figure out what you want from 75 different variations of toothpaste or shampoo."

During the Cold War, Soviet bloc refugees who made it to the United States would sometimes have miniature nervous breakdowns in our supermarkets when confronted with all the choices they had never had to make before.

Having spent several few minutes last night puzzling over the relative merits of Vivid White, Whitening Expressions, Whitening Plus Scope, Tartar Protection Whitening, and Extra Whitening, I know just how they felt.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:47 AM on March 24, 2009


Oh man, I could really go for some corn chips and a beach ball right now.
posted by rmless at 6:59 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you can't come up with your own memorable sound, maybe you're not up to the job, little Mr. Beep Beep POS Terminal.

What would you prefer? A full orchestral fanfare with the Vienna Boys' Choir singing your praises for having shopped at Market Basket, in digital Dolby surround no less?

Come to think of it, that would be awesome.
posted by Spatch at 7:03 AM on March 24, 2009


During the Cold War, Soviet bloc refugees who made it to the United States would sometimes have miniature nervous breakdowns in our supermarkets when confronted with all the choices they had never had to make before.

Are you sure you're not just remembering the Robin Williams movie, "Moscow on the Hudson"?
posted by chowflap at 7:07 AM on March 24, 2009


chowflap: "Are you sure you're not just remembering the Robin Williams movie, "Moscow on the Hudson"?"

The anecdote comes from The Next Whole Earth Catalog, FWIW.

But as it happens, I saw them filming a scene from that movie outside Penn Station. The Robin Williams character was a chauffeur at that point in the plot, as I recall. He spoke a few words for the scene... then dived into a waiting limousine which sped him away from the commoners.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:19 AM on March 24, 2009


most Americans of 50 years ago would feel right at home in today's grocery store.

Except for the fact that with the invention of the bar code scanner, the stores no longer have to hire people to manually stick little adhesive price tags on every single item, and people standing in checkout lines don't have to wait for the checker to laboriously key in the price of each item, or wait while somebody is called to go and run to the other end of the store and check the marked price because the item doesn't have a sticker or it was on sale, and the checkers don't have to memorize the prices of most items if they want to have any hope of being relatively fast, and store managers no longer get major headaches over the prospect of frequently adjusting prices.

The bar code is one of those things that I have the impression that the vast majority of people in any given supermarket today have taken for granted, because they have forgotten what a royal pain in the ass it used to be.

(I was going to include a rant on people taking forever to write checks being replaced by quick and easy debit/credit card swipes but, maddeningly, some people still do this which I will never understand. There is not one argument in its favor other than "this is the way I've always done it" that I can comprehend. Avoiding credit card fees? Use a ATM card. Wanting to keep track of your balance? Go to your bank's website and check your register online.)
posted by Rhomboid at 7:22 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


You should have seen vintage photos from the communist countries, there was only one product or two in an entire supermarket :|
posted by zorzini at 7:24 AM on March 24, 2009


These photos remind me of my first job. As soon as the state would grant me a work permit I was sacking* groceries at the local grocery chain - O'Malias. I got the job at the store around the corner from my house because my dad had a part-time job (just to pay child support, he'd tell me once) at the deli counter of the cross-town store.

I worked there for 2 years until the store closed - started out bagging and carrying out groceries but also worked the register (very rare, for a guy) and spent a lot of time in produce (loved it, could be left alone in the cooler).

Although this was the late 80s, the store was still a snapshot of the late 50s or early 60s when it was built. It had all the old coolers, shelves and signage. It was deluxe for its time - carpeting and free coffee and fanatical about great customer service. I probably have more memories of that place - the backrooms, freezer, trash compactor, time spent with a price gun or stamper - than of my junior high. My nature has always been change-averse but, at 15, I seriously thought that I would work there forever. I guess I'm grateful the store was closed.

I remember my male coworkers were especially homophobic - even for small town Indiana - but they would mostly manifest this buy grabbing asses in the back room and or humping one another. And lots of lisping speech, over the intercom if they thought the store was empty.

I remember lunches: I would get a deli sandwich - hot ham and cheese or roast beef, a bottle of seltzer, and some Reese's Cups, and a copy of the Weekly World News. I would sit out back or go home to read about Bat Boy. I had my last ham sandwich there before becoming a vegetarian in high school. A very nice woman with large white hair named Nancy worked the deli counter and made it for me. I can recall all kinds of useless facts about my coworkers - names, what kind of car they drove, how long they'd worked there.

Thanks for the great post, I love these old pictures.

* When I moved from Indiana to Boston and got a job at a major retail bookstore I would ask people if they wanted a "sack" for their books, to endless confused looks.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:28 AM on March 24, 2009


Are you sure you're not just remembering the Robin Williams movie, "Moscow on the Hudson"?

Viktor Belenko, the first pilot to defect to the West with a MiG-25 "Foxbat" jet fighter, described something similar in his book. On his first trip to a Western-style grocery store, he was convinced that it was fake, something the CIA had set up to observe his reactions to the choices and massive amounts of available products.
posted by mrbill at 7:47 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wanting to keep track of your balance? Go to your bank's website and check your register online.

Strangely enough, I had this very discussion with a friend. She is meticulous about keeping track of her finances, uses paper cheques with a hand-written register, but also has a debit card. I do all transactions electronically and check the statement on my bank's website, but even though she has the same electronic statement, she "trusts" her paper one more and "verifies" it against the electronic and paper copies she receives at the end of a period.

I have no idea why.
posted by odinsdream at 7:48 AM on March 24, 2009


"FOOD-O-MAT!"

Actually, the most awesome thing about the Food-O-Mat is that the "o-mat" part is just some dude standing there, reminding us of the era of illusory automation!
posted by majick at 7:51 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


O'Malia's WOOT! Carpet in the aisles! The closest thing to a 'gourmet' food store in the 1980's!
posted by leotrotsky at 7:56 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Viktor Belenko, the first pilot to defect to the West with a MiG-25 "Foxbat" jet fighter, described something similar in his book. On his first trip to a Western-style grocery store, he was convinced that it was fake, something the CIA had set up to observe his reactions to the choices and massive amounts of available products.

That is awesome. Thank you for the edumacation.
/still has heart palpitations in the toothpaste aisle
posted by chowflap at 8:03 AM on March 24, 2009


Rhomboid: "The bar code is one of those things that I have the impression that the vast majority of people in any given supermarket today have taken for granted, because they have forgotten what a royal pain in the ass it used to be."

I seem to recall some folk at the time of its introduction worrying about its Orwellian potential. If only they'd known what was coming next.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:31 AM on March 24, 2009


The first thing that pops out at me is that the shelves are all much shorter than they are in my local supermarket. Looks like they were about head-height in the photos; I have to stand on my toes and reach to make it to the top shelf today.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:47 AM on March 24, 2009



most Americans of 50 years ago would feel right at home in today's grocery store.

They would probably all faint at the sight of all the fresh produce. Winter produce consisted of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, apples, onions and maybe parsnips and oranges. Arugula? Sprouts? Artichokes? Fennel bulbs? Plantains? Tomatillos? Bok Choy?! ~gasp, faints~
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:09 AM on March 24, 2009


Rhomboid:The bar code is one of those things that I have the impression that the vast majority of people in any given supermarket today have taken for granted, because they have forgotten what a royal pain in the ass it used to be.
I agree, although I haven't personally forgotten.

For some reason, the super-deep-discount drug/grocery store chain in my city eschews UPCs in favor of old-fashioned, labor-intensive sticky labels. And the ponderously slow, chaotic and confused check-out process that results. A couple of times a year, I shop there, and on the checkout line, I think to myself "Oh, that's right, I was planning to never come here again because it's so slow and irritating."

By some sufficiently contorted accounting, the sticky-label system must be cheaper. I can't fathom how.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:24 AM on March 24, 2009


(obligatory) In Soviet Russia, price checks YOU!*

Else, my neighbourhood IGA 'food mart' closed last October. Not because of lack of demand, mind you, just because Safeway owned the property and forced them out. Way to piss of the community. That's another story.

Anyhoop, the IGA was of the same era as many of these pics and looking through these pictures makes me sad, especially seeing the empty hulk that it is now.

*sigh*

_____
*I don't even know what that's supposed to mean.

posted by mazola at 9:44 AM on March 24, 2009


Selling beer, booze and cigarettes in a supermarket = heaven.

Where I live in Canada you have to go to a private or government liquor store to buy alcohol, which is a real drag
posted by KokuRyu at 10:01 AM on March 24, 2009


Is it that they are selling merchandise without UPCs, or that they are there but just don't use them? I seem to recall reading that manufacturers have to pay fees in order to be issued unique bar codes for their products from the standards organization that allocates them, and thus if you're dealing with really low margin items it might be a cost-savings tactic to skip the fees. However, if the merchandise does have UPCs but the store just refuses to invest in a scanner and database system then that does seem pretty far on the insane scale. I don't know how big an enterprise Marc's is, but if it's on the smaller side it could just be one of those cases where management never really hired a real IT person (or they did once but he/she was incompetent) and they don't have the in-house talent to integrate a UPC database into their existing point of sale system, which might also be ancient and frail, or just cobbled together and barely functional as-is.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2009


Maybe they just have old inventory that doesn't feature UPC yet.

It could be true.
posted by mazola at 11:28 AM on March 24, 2009


Holy crap, Homestar Runner evolved from a fish! No wonder he doesn't have arms.
posted by furtive at 12:00 PM on March 24, 2009


KokuRyu, if it makes you feel better, there are still places in the US where you have to go to the government store for booze.
posted by octothorpe at 12:03 PM on March 24, 2009


Broad breasted white meat.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:07 PM on March 24, 2009


Where I live in Canada you have to go to a private or government liquor store to buy alcohol, which is a real drag

Some U.S. states are the same way, last time I was in Pennsylvania we had to go to a "distributor" for beer. There are official liquor stores too, archaic, I did hear they were going to get rid of it because it tended to shut out smaller brewers. Don't know what came of it.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:40 PM on March 24, 2009


Except for the hairdos, cash registers and guy that weighs your bananas for you (???) my supermarket looks exactly like this.
posted by DU at 5:24 AM on March 25, 2009


On his first trip to a Western-style grocery store, he was convinced that it was fake, something the CIA had set up to observe his reactions to the choices and massive amounts of available products.

Aha, found it:
First of all American super-market, my first visit was under CIA supervision, and I thought it was set-up; I did not believe super-market was real one. I thought well I was unusual guest; they probably kicked everyone out. It's such a nice, big place with incredible amount of produce, and no long lines! You're accustomed to long lines in Russia. But later, when I discovered super-market was real one, I had real fun exploring new products. I would buy, everyday, a new thing and try to figure out its function. In Russia at that time (and even today) it's hard to find canned food, good one. But everyday I would buy new cans with different food. Once I bought a can which said "dinner." I cooked it with potatoes, onions, and garlic-it was delicious. Next morning my friends ask me, "Viktor, did you buy a cat?" It was a can of chicken-based cat food. But it was delicious! It was better than canned food for people in Russia today.
posted by mrbill at 11:14 AM on March 30, 2009


Rhomboid: Is it that they are selling merchandise without UPCs, or that they are there but just don't use them?
The UPCs are present (the stuff for sale at Marc's is the same big name-brand stuff for sale at any other grocery store) but Marc's doesn't use them. Their "point of sale system" consists of just about the most basic, most no-frills imaginable cash registers. Often operated by senior citizens in desperate need of new glasses. They don't appear to be networked in any fashion.

The Marc's website claims "over 40 stores," which seems about right. There are much smaller grocery operations that do use scanners.

I guess I was sort of hoping someone could point out the sense or the savings in this scheme. But I guess there isn't any.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:29 AM on March 31, 2009


Rhomboid: Is it that they are selling merchandise without UPCs, or that they are there but just don't use them?
The UPCs are present (the stuff for sale at Marc's is the same big name-brand stuff for sale at any other grocery store) but Marc's doesn't use them. Their "point of sale system" consists of just about the most basic, most no-frills imaginable cash registers. They don't appear to be networked in any fashion.

The Marc's website claims "over 40 stores," which seems about right. There are much smaller grocery operations that do use scanners.

I guess I was sort of hoping someone could point out the sense or the savings in this scheme. But I guess there isn't any.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:30 AM on March 31, 2009


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