Long Island 70s Supermarkets

There was no shortage of places to shop for food on Long Island in the 1970s. While some still preferred the local markets and neighborhood butchers and bakers, millions of others found their way to the bigger chains. One particular homegrown chain had an enormous impact on the grocery stores we visit today, not only on the island, but all across the country.

The Smithsonian Institute calls Long Island-based King Kullen “America’s First Supermarket.” They call it that because it is the first chain to fulfill the following five criteria – separate departments, discount pricing, self-service, volume dealing and chain marketing. But that’s not all that makes them significant.

King Kullen, headquartered in Bethpage, got its start in 1930 and became the model of the modern supermarket, complete with its own parking lots (a first). They were also the first to introduce shopping carts in the 30s. In the 50s, they added air conditioning, auto-opening doors, and music. They essentially created the shopping experience we know today.

But they were far from the only kid on the block. There was plenty of competition from these stores below. all of whom were prominent on Long Island in the 1970s.

Shoprite, whose origins are in New Jersey, gained a strong foothold on the island in the early 70s, in part due to a very memorable ad campaign called the “Can-Can”. Each year, the store offered massive savings on canned items in January, and each year they unleashed various forms of this commercial. Once you heard it, it could get stuck in your head for hours on end. This is one of the first of the Can-Can commercials. It may also be the best.

 

 

Hills started in Massapequa in 1955, and grew to over 70 stores by the time the 1970s arrived. Sadly, they did not survive the decade, with most of their stores on the island having closed by 1978 when the brand was sold to Food Fair.  For some reason, my parents preferred to shop at Hills, both at the location across from the Smith Haven Mall, and the Bohemia location. At least until they closed.

 

A&P, or if you want to get technical, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, dates all the way back to 1859. Through the first half of the 70s, they were the largest grocery retailer in the United States, with many locations dotting Long Island in the 1970s. By the end of the decade, A&P struggled to compete in a crowded market, but they regained their footing and became a formidable competitor in the years that followed. Of all the supermarkets here, they had the most memorable outer appearance.

 

Pathmark arrived in 1968, as rebranded ShopRite stores after splitting away from their parent company. The new parent company of Pathmark also owned another familiar store to Long Islanders in the 70s, Rickel Home Center. Pathmark grew throughout the 70s, and was the first supermarket chain to introduce scanners in 1974. By the end of the decade, they were the top supermarket chain in New York.

 

Waldbaums was founded in Brooklyn in 1904, and gradually expanded throughout the island in the decades that followed – earning a loyal following among Long Islanders along the way. Unfortunately, financial struggles got the best of them in the decade that followed. In 1986, they were purchased by A&P and many of the old Waldbaums stores were converted into A&Ps.

 

Grand Union was started in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1872. They expanded significantly through the 50s and 60s, with a number of locations opening on Long Island in the years that followed.  Although they retained modest popularity throughout the 70s decade, by the end of the century, most if not all locations on Long Island were long gone.

 

Bohack got its start in Brooklyn in 1887. The venture proved so successful that by 1931, there were over 700 locations! Once featured on the 1968 film, The Odd Couple, Bohack (often incorrectly called “Bohacks”) was a popular store among Long Islanders until the company filed for bankruptcy in 1977. 

 

These chains were, for better or worse, the biggest food stores of the era for Long Island shoppers, and they pulled a lot of customers from those local markets, butchers and bakeries by offering bigger selections, and in some cases, better prices.

That’s not to say that the products were better; you would never find some of the delicacies of a small market or deli at the local grocery store, but due to convenience, the bigger stores would eventually put many of those small markets out of business. Supermarkets were here to stay.

 

Some families were loyal to a particular brand, while others hopped from place to place in search of the best prices. And each family had their own ritual when it came to shopping for food. In some, mom did all of the shopping and bargain hunting. For others, a trip to the grocery store meant the whole family came along for the ride.

We might have all had our own way of shopping for food, and our own stores that we frequented, but no family escaped this weekly chore. And no Long Island 70s Kid was able to escape those dreaded words from mom or dad:

“Get your coat, we’re going food shopping…”

 

How did your family do the food shopping on Long Island? Did you go to the smaller markets, or one of the chains above? Did you like going with your parents, or would you have rather stayed home? I’d love to hear all of your food shopping memories in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

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54 Responses

  1. Dee Moore says:

    Worked at King Mullen on the Vets highway, in the meat Dept. While I was going to college. Loved that job. Can still remember Jackie the lady I worked with.

  2. Charlie Pagano says:

    How about Packers? Hemp Tpike Elmont/ FS border.

  3. Heywood says:

    Don’t forget Daitch Shopwell

  4. g.putt says:

    Does anyone remember Penn Fruit on Hempstead Turnpike. Think it was in East Meadow or Levittown
    Hadcurved roof like giant quanset hut.

    • Anonymous says:

      It was in Levittown where BJ’s is located.

    • Wanda says:

      My mom worked at Penn Fruit back around 1960-1963, somewhere around that time frame. She actually loved working there and said that the company was way ahead of it’s time. She always spoke about that company to me later on in years

  5. Anonymous says:

    Remember Pantry Pride?

  6. Heidi van essendelft says:

    I love your look at the supermarkets of yesteryear! Do you happen to have the long king kullen song?
    From the lady in the harbor
    To the lighthouse on the ocean
    From the farms out east to the city streets
    It’s the place that we call home.
    We’re friendly people in every way
    We give our best everyday
    Long island, we serve you as you grow
    We’re king kullen
    Long island’s own

  7. We had a stable on Broadway Ave in Holbrook and we used to go to Billy Blakes

  8. Biggie says:

    That wasn’t the first can can commercial and Bohack was in The Odd Couple movie, not the tv show. Other than than that, good article.

    • 70sKid says:

      You are correct. Film, not TV series. And since I can’t confirm that this was the first can-can commercial (although that is how it was described), I’ve changed the wording. Thanks for your input!

      • Tom says:

        I remember my Mom telling me we had to go food shopping, at King Kullen, of course, and I refused to go into the store in 1963…Whitey Ford was pitching for the Yankees in the World Series and I got my own way…I was 5 years old…My Mother let me stay in the car while she shopped..Those were the days…I was in half-sessions for kindergarten and the World Series was played during the day…

  9. Vince says:

    I worked and my family shopped at Foodtown

    • CJ says:

      Mel Weitz’ “Melmarkets”? He owned most of the L.I. stores, most from former Pantry Pride/Food Fair supermarkets when they baled. He shined through the 80’s, retired to Florida quite wealthy (now dead) – and sold his deteriorating franchise (he rarely upgraded stores) to Edward’s Food Stores/Finast/Stop&Shop [Delhaize/Royal Ahold]. ShopRite [Wakefern] is a cooperative, like Key Food, Associated, Met Foods, IGA… usually smaller local markets. I explicitly remember the Merrick location, regardless of branding, was a dump for years until it was completely renovated in the 2010s.

      • Anonymous says:

        How do you know so much about food town ? It wasour favorite store

      • Warren S Hoffman says:

        Remember that location very well – was in the Merrick Mall off Merrick Ave. Also, his daughter, Lori, was in several classes with me at JFK High School in Bellmore.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I remember the live-action version of the can-can commercial from the mid 70’s. Like our couch at the time, it was an overwhelming pea-green color that would literally make me nauseous when I watched it as a small kid during episodes of Sanford and Son, Happy Days, etc..

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hey no mention of foodtown on this site. I worked at the one in east rockaway and helped with setting up deli counters with harvey cohen as foodtown expanded thru out long Island.

  12. Anthony says:

    I remember when you’d have a department store and a supermarket connected. Massapequa had Mays & Foodtown, Levittown had Times Square Stores & Foodtown and East Meadow had 2 sets with Great Eastern with a HIlls and Modells department store with a Modells supermarket!

    • Waldbaums had white modells and billy blakes.

      • Pianoman says:

        Billy Blakes had Foodfair.

        When Billy Blakes went out of business they did not “liquidate”, they just closed.
        When I was eleven I went into a closed Billy Blakes to find it fully stocked. I turned on all the lights and brought the store to life again! Even the gigantic chase sign out on Main Street was flashing and doing it’s thing! The registers went on! The parking lot lights lit up! the store to me was a vast play land! (There was that desolate hum that fluorescent lights make.)

        FoodFair was attached and contained well stocked, rotting food. (We drank the soda but didn’t stay long with the rats.)

        My father had a piano store “up the hill” from Billy Blakes. He noticed the entire store light up, knew i was behind it and came to get me.

        We played in that store every day as if we owned it!

      • Pianoman says:

        Most people don’t remember White’s Department Store.
        It became White Modell’s and then just Modell’s.

        The Centereach store eventually was Modell’s, Pergament’s and some other store all under one roof together. They were divided with make-shift boundaries.

        • Dave says:

          Pianoman, that’s a great story about Billy Blake. We had one on route 347 in South Setauket/Poer Jefferson Station.

          Btw, the Centereach store started out as Masters, changed to Modell’s, then was leveled and replaced with the present Wal-Mart.

      • Dave says:

        I remember a White’s grand opening in Middle Island by Artist Lake, around 1963-64. I was 4, and it was the first time I saw a spotlight employed at a grand opening. I was amazed to see it illuminate the bottoms of clouds in the sky.

  13. Matt says:

    I would go hopping with my mother at Pathmark in Bay Shore every Friday night as a kid. I actually looked forward to going for some reason.

  14. JD says:

    That Penn Fruit on Hempstead Turnpike with the curved roof was in Levittown, It turned into the orinial Pathmark Store there before they built the Nassau Mall and Pathmark relocated inside it at the front end, while Rickels as at the back end of the mall. The spot of that curved roof store was in the area that now has the Kohl’s store and AMC movie theater.

  15. Paula says:

    Does anyone remember what supermarket used to have its own restaurant attached to it? I think it was steak restaurant, but wouldn’t swear to it

  16. Anonymous says:

    How about Gouz in elmont? We used to make the trip from Brooklyn to go there.

  17. Debby says:

    Great article and trip down memory lane! Thank you! Waldbaums was our favorite. They used to be a great company when Ira owned it.

  18. The first supermarket sweep location was at food fair now key food on central ave valley stream.

  19. Safeway had a handfull of store in long island and yonkers. Finast and king kullen took over them. Safeway stills exists in d.c. and west coast. It is now owned by Albertsons.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for validating what I always remembered about Safeway having stores on Long Island. I remember our mother taking us to one on Route 110/New York Ave in Huntington Station in the early ’70s.

  20. Linda Seltzer. Roesen says:

    Trying to locate M. Roy Cohen His family owned supermarkets on Long Island in the 50s and 60s. He attended the College of William and Mary, class of l960.

  21. Mike says:

    I worked at the WaldBaum’s in Selden in the early 80’s.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Remember Food Fair? Had one in Lynbrook, NY

  23. Dave says:

    Anyone remember the Centereach Hills, in the Dawn shopping center?

    I’d go to the Centereach Hills every Friday with my mother. This was around 1964, so I was only about 5 or 6 and my universe was still pretty small. The store manager worked in a raised, half-walled office at the far end of the checkout lanes. His name was Bill and he wore a shirt & tie with a pocket containing lots of pens and a name tag. When a cashier had an issue, she’d call out “Bill!”. I kind of idolized him.

    That Hills burned down when I was in 2nd grade. I was really bummed out about it. For about the next 20 years, the ruins sat there untouched with weeds growing through the terrazo floor. There was a Smiles 5 & 10 next door, which stayed open for around the next 30 years.

    • Danny McAleese says:

      I arrived at Centereach in 75′ so I missed that one. Do you remember Foosball World, which was over in the same area (maybe the same shopping center, off Dawn PL?) I remember it being a small arcade in that strip mall, maybe two levels with a lot of pinball machines. If you showed them your report card you’d get free quarters for every ‘A’ you brought in. I always thought that was pretty cool! My favorite arcade was always The Subway though, over in the Sun-Vet mall. Nothing beat the nostalgia of that place, all dark and totally light-free except for the spectral glow of the arcade screens.

    • John Vogel says:

      The Dawn Shopping Center is amazing. I remember the terrazzo floor, still there as the Arby’s Restaurant sat out in front of it. What’s amazing about The Center is that a few stores still remain from the sixties. Marino’s Meat Market, which was Edwards until the early seventies. Hau Po Chinese Restaurant, , Work and Play, and Centereach Pharmacy moved into the old Smiles 5 and Dime. But they are all still in business. While mom and pop stores in other centers have died.

    • John Vogel says:

      Do you remember Elinor and Pike stores. The one on Middle Country Rd, Centereach. It mysteriously burned down around the same time that Hills burned down. That was E&P’s second fire within a year.

  24. JR says:

    Anybody remember a supermarket called Big Apple?

  25. Chris says:

    Now THIS is a topic that brings back memories…

    I spent my senior year in high school part-timing at the Pantry Pride on Grand Ave. in Baldwin (across the street from Pathmark) until the chain bankrupted in ‘78.

    I then worked at Mel Meitz’s FoodTown in East Rockaway, until I graduated from college and went off in pursuit of fame and fortune. What a cast of characters! In retrospect, I’d wager that if you took a poll, you’d find that half the kids in the East Rockaway and Lynbrook of that era either stocked shelves or worked a cash register at FoodTown at one time or another.

  26. Pianoman says:

    When Korvettes wanted to have a supermarket they purchased Hills.

  27. White rose used to be avilable mostly small grocery. stores including the .met

  28. John says:

    I grew up behind ellner n pile in centereacn. It sadly burned down

  29. Barry says:

    My parents used to shop at Food Parade on South Oyster Bay Rd. in Hicksville. It is now a Staples store. I remember my parents appeasing me by buying rainbow sprinkles in a cup. A Grand Union was across the street in the Plainview Shopping Center. I remember being afraid of going there because I thought it was owned by Communists! Later on I realized that I got our local supermarket confused with the Soviet Union. Fond memories of my childhood!

  30. Bob says:

    Middle Island White’s – where we would buy 45 records for 25 cents and Santa would arrive by helicopter! Miss that place.

  31. Joe says:

    Bohack (I always remembered it as Bohacks) was waaaay up the block from our house in Westbury. Mom didn’t drive when I was little, so she took my sisters and me and we walked! Definitely would’ve stayed home but was too young. Great memories

  32. andrew fernandez says:

    finast is now stop and shop. it is own by the same company as food lion,giant,tops. they sell natures promise organic foods.

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