Super shelving 1940
Lately we’ve been talking a lot about grocery shopping — what’s on the shelf and what’s not.
For nearly 170 years somebody here in Southern Oregon has been selling us the food and supplies we need to make our house a happy home, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that we moved away from good old mom and pop to the sprawling supermarket.
Although you can search the Internet for the history of the supermarket if you wish, locally, it probably all began Nov. 4, 1920, with the opening of “The Economy Groceteria, Medford’s Biggest Money Saver The marketplace of Southern Oregon.” The management offered the shopper thrift and freedom. “Here, you serve yourself and save,” they said.
First located in the Medford Furniture and Hardware Building on Central Avenue (today’s Woolworth Building), in July 1923 the store moved across the street to a building recently constructed by the Groceteria owners. It was on the corner of North Central Avenue and East Sixth Street, where the Southern Oregon Historical Society building now stands, for nearly 25 years.
In April 1930, a second Groceteria store opened at Grape and West Sixth streets. It and the original store were renamed the Groceteria Super Food Markets. For the first time, dairy and meat products would be electrically refrigerated and placed in display cases.
In the spring of 1940, after 20 years in the grocery game, the Groceteria was facing major competition from a new store that called itself a “supermarket.” The Big-Y Super Market’s four-day grand opening celebration began April 12.
Located at the junction of the old and new Pacific Highways, (today’s Big-X intersection near Rogue Valley Mall), the Big-Y building left no doubt about its name and purpose. A gigantic, vertical, neon “BIG Y” sign, centered on the front of the structure was flanked on either side by the words, SUPER and MARKET. (The store was located where Natural Grocers on North Pacific Highway is today.)
It offered a 12,000-square-foot. cement floor and over one-half acre of parking space. Windows lined the lower front of the building and could be raised or lowered as desired.
There would be “something doing every minute,” said a three-page advertisement in the Mail Tribune, including free Shetland pony rides for the kids, food demonstrations, cake for all, and free coffee for adults.
The highlight of the grand opening was a “Treasure Hunt” offering over 100 prizes with absolutely nothing to buy. Every time a shopper entered the store they received a numbered ticket — “your key to the Treasure Hunt.”
While shopping, customers were instructed to keep their eyes open in every department for the “many treasures scattered throughout the store,” all in plain sight. If the number placed on a treasure matched the shopper’s number, the item was “absolutely free.”
Perhaps you’d find the 100-pound bag of sugar, one of the 50 boxes of assorted groceries, or the three pairs of silk hosiery. “Bring the entire family,” the ad said. “There’s plenty of treasure hunting for all.”
Many valley merchants gladly joined in the celebration. Snider’s Dairy demonstrated and offered sample tasting of a selection of frozen foods, “the most delicious you’ve ever tasted.”
Out front of the store, Lampham Motors displayed the 1940 line of Ford models and offered free rides to the Big-Y in a new Ford V8. Cars left the dealership on Riverside Avenue every 15 minutes.
It was a grand time for all, fully stocked shelves with everything you needed, including toilet paper. For the skillful hoarder who plans ahead, Big-Y offered “Palmtex Silk Tissue” in a 1,000-sheet roll for 5 cents. Groceteria countered with “Comfort Toilet Tissue,” 4 rolls, 23 cents.
Those were the days of the deal.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at email@example.com.