Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Look Back at the Beginning of Supermarkets in 1916

Clarence Saunders opened the first modern self-service supermarket in Memphis in 1916. Prior to this, when you needed groceries, you made out a list and gave it to a store clerk who collected all the items for you. Many ladies preferred to send their list to a store and the groceries were delivered to their house. At that time, items in the store weren't priced and charges could differ.

Saunders came up with a revolutionary way of shopping. The customer selected her own items and all the items had the price clearly marked. The customer went through a checkout stand to pay. The Pink Palace museum in Memphis has a 1919 replica of Saunder's supermarket, which he called Piggly Wiggly. Although there were many who preferred to send a list to the store and have their groceries delivered, soon the concept caught on and changed the way Americans shopped for household goods.

Let's go shopping.  The supermarket wasn't very large and you were guided through the store by aisles. You entered the store on one side, started down aisle 1 and followed a simple maze until you reached the exit aisle.

After you entered, you selected a basket to put your items in. Obviously, people didn't buy as much as we do today.

Then you started down the first aisle where shelves held canned foods. The items were clearly price with a label hanging in front of the goods. 

Many of the brand names in  are familiar to us and still sold in stores today. The labels on the cans are reproductions of the original labels for that time period. But there is a huge difference in the price and also the size of the cans, which are much smaller nowadays. Like the DelMonte beans are 1 pound cans for 8 cents.

The store had basically an entrance aisle, a couple of middle aisles and exit aisle. Above the aisles were catwalks where store security would patrol, keeping an eye on customers. Housewares, heavier merchandise such a bags of flour and sugar, fruit and refrigerated boxes were located along the exit aisle.

At the end of the exit aisle was turnstile that you went through and a path you followed to check out and leave the store.

The check out counter had a cash register, scales and a some candy jars. After you paid, your groceries were bagged in brown paper sacks. The supermarket help-yourself stores became a huge hit and other grocery chains besides Piggly Wiggly soon sprang up over the country. The concept of self service is now the custom for shoppers.

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