Friday, December 31, 2021

Early 1950s Supermarkets show Appetite for Parking

In the few years right before and right after 1940, Safeway built new stores facing the sidewalk. In the late 1930s they were right on the corner, and in the 1940s local new stores had a small parking lot on the corner, but still faced the main street. 

A little more than a decade later, new stores were set in the middle of large parking lots, recessed away from the sidewalk on the main street.

Successor store, just 15 years later
November 13th, 1951

We have often understood the story of the Center Street Safeway as a story of loss, of the loss of one of Salem's earliest school buildings from the 1880s. But it is also a story of our autoism. The store's central location, starting with that one in 1936, on the edge of downtown has proved durable and useful, but the evolution in store plan showed our appetite for parking.

East School / Washington School, 1949
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

November 13th, 1951

Erickson's had opened a "super market" on Portland Road at Lana Avenue in 1946, and Berg's another one in the Capitol Shopping Center in 1949, but the Erickson's store does not seem fully realized, and Berg's wasn't stand-alone. At the moment, the Center Street Safeway seems like the best candidate for the first modern supermarket in Salem.

Safeway had announced big plans in the 1949 annual report, and the afternoon paper picked it up in April of 1950. Nationally they promised "new large, modern stores featuring the most modern equipment and adequate customer parking space." Some would be remodels, some would be "new locations [replacing] obsolete stores."

April 11th, 1950

The first site in Salem for a new store was the old school between 12th and 13th, Center and Marion.

September 28th, 1950

Interestingly, they first showed a site plan concept that met the corner of 12th and Center. Perhaps because of the railroad, or for some other reason, they rotated the store 90 degrees and placed it on the north side of the block along Marion, with the parking along Center.

October 12th, 1950 (notes added)

They broke ground in the spring of 1951.

April 21st, 1951

The tone of the news piece announcing that Safeway had sold the building even before it was completed suggests this may have been an early instance of a leaseback.

July 24th, 1951

For the opening there were more than three full pages of coverage, including advertising. It was a triumph of planning and modernization. Plus, "acres of free parking."

November 13th, 1951

November 13th, 1951

At the opening they announced the immediate closure of the old store on 14th and State (recently the Capital Market) and transfer of staff to the new store. It had only been open for a decade.

July 7th, 1932

A couple of years later, in 1955 Safeway opened the new supermarket that is now the Support Services Center for the School District. It replaced the one at 935 South Commercial that had been remodeled in 1942, and was originally an art deco-y Pay n Takit that opened in 1932.

December 14th, 1955

More parking lot than store, detail

The advertising focused on the size of the parking lot. "Free parking for 178 cars!" It emphasized this much more than the publicity and advertising for the Center Street store in 1951, five years earlier.

In turn a couple of decades later, this new market closed and moved south to the building where Wilco is now, which site in turn closed. 

The constant churn of grocery store buildings is impressive, and testifies to the competitive nature of the business. This leap-frogging down a major arterial, keeping up with the edges of new residential development, also highlights the stability of the Center Street location, just three blocks from the location at 13th and State. Proximity to the Capitol, Willamette University, North High, as well the the residential districts nearby, has surely contributed to this.

Next we'll probably look a little at the Capitol Shopping Center, as a footnote or perhaps as a longer post.

See previous "grocery history" posts here.

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