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!