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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • ABOUT PARIS, 1895

Super Giant: 1964

Super Giant: 1964

1964. The Super Giant supermarket in Rockville, Maryland. Color transparency by John Dominis, Life magazine photo archive. View full size.

The Noise

The old registers were so noisy. No screens to check what was going on, just quick eye movement to try and keep track. Ahh...back in the day when every item had a price on it.

Crossing the Potomac

The hype of Super Giant was enough to entice these Northern Virginians into crossing The Potomac River into Maryland. The commute is commonplace today but not so much in 1964. We had not seen anything like it. Racks & racks of mass produced clothing and groceries, too! Grandmother bought the same suit in 3 different sizes. She and my mother got their money's worth. I was 13. It never left my closet.

Memories from the early '60s

My mom worked at Chestnut Lodge and would often stop by the Super Giant on Rockville Pike on her way home to shop for groceries -- and clothes for me! I was much too young to be brand- or fashion-conscious and I remember loving the little cotton A-line dresses that Mom would bring home. We lived in the District and a big thrill for me would be to drive up to Rockville with my parents on the weekends and shop at the Super Giant and Korvettes!

The other Super Giant

The third Super Giant is in White Oak. They took the "Super" off ages ago, but it is all still there. Mostly we went to the one in Laurel, which still retains its huge circa-1960 sign in the parking lot. Around 1980 it ate the old Kresge store next door, but by that time the department store features of the biggest stores were mostly gone. It's kind of funny -- the mall they built just south of the shopping center almost killed the latter, but now the shopping center is very busy and the mall may well be torn down.

Bagger Nostalgia...Part Deux

When I was a kid (1950s) I used to go with my father to the grocery (Kroger's) on Saturday morning. I always helped bag the groceries, especially if they were short handed, and he would always remind me of his bagging rule: "Don't even think about putting the meat next to the soap or even in the same bag."

In the 50s as I remember it the majority of the cashiers were women and that was their only job at the store.

I notice that even as early as the 60s they had the security screens next to the cash register to keep unwanted fingers out of the till form the adjacent aisle.

I also remember making the family excursion to the Top Value redemption store to select the "FREE" gift that the household needed when we had sufficient stamp books filled.

Bagger Nostalgia

Regrettably, the baggers are out of view to the right. My greatest nostalgia for supermarkets past concerns the bag boys, practitioners of a high art. They took pride in how compactly they could pack your groceries with attention to putting the fragile items on top -- not to mention that they all tried to outdo each other in speed.

King Soopers, 1960

I work for a division of Kroger called King Soopers in Colorado. My store, which opened in February 1960, has a lot in common with this one. They have tried to modernize it but you can still see the old store showing through in places. Great photo.

Scan it

I enjoyed coming back to this photo for new comments -- I had one before, but long before the new post.

I live not far from Troy, Ohio, where the local newspaper just had an article about the bar code scanner. The very first item scanned -- anywhere -- was at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, in 1974. Troy is less then 30 miles north of Dayton, where NCR developed the scanner. The Marsh store is still there, but NCR is leaving.

I might have been there!

Oh do I remember that! My family lived in Rockville until 1965, and my mother usually took me along. After moving, we'd go to the Rockville Super Giant only if we needed to stop at the department store side.

The beige boxes that you see at Checkouts 6 and 7 were the Top Value Stamp dispensers. (The man in the T-shirt is signing a check on top of one.) They automatically spit out the right amount of those yellow stamps. We bought quite a few things with Top Value Stamps, including a well-built Westinghouse room dehumidifier.

The Giant Food at Friendship Heights had a conveyor belt but this store did not. This one had so much land, there was a huge sidewalk area out front where you could bring your carts -- but not to the car. Instead there were pairs of plastic cards, one with a hook for the cart, one with a hole. They had a three digit number, and the note "NO TIPPING". Took me a while to understand that wasn't about tipping over the carts. When you pulled up, an employee (probably young) put the bags in your car for you.

Speaking of brand names, I can see the stacks of Mueller's spaghetti in Aisle 6. It's the brand we ate then. (Now I know Farina flour has no business in pasta!)

The meat department is along the wall at the left. Deli and seafood were at the far back corner. There were a pair of "Pick a Pickle" barrels in front of the deli counter. One Dill, one Half-Sour. Good pickles, and great fish. The fish department has always been a source of pride for Giant. Of course this was back when a flounder was over a foot long, not these six-inch midgets we get today. All the fish were whole on ice, only gutted, and they scraped the scales, and cut or filleted the fish to your order.

The produce department starts behind the Brach's counter, and extends out the photo to the left. There were one or two manned scales there, where they would weigh your brown paper bag of produce, mark the price with a grease pencil, and staple it shut. If it was something tender like cherries, they would put "XX" on it, so that it would be correctly bagged. So the checkers only needed to know the prices of "piece" produce.

There was a "post mix" soda machine at the end of Aisle 12, 13, or 14, which would mix syrup and soda water into a cup. I'd often get a Coke. Probably 5 cents. I remember getting Mercury dimes as change from that machine -- this photo is from the last year of silver dimes and quarters. (Serious inflation was kicking in to pay for the Vietnam War.)

Cigarettes? Where were they? I should know, my mom smoked then. They were only in cartons, they were so dirt-cheap that nobody bought them by the pack, except in vending machines. They certainly didn't need to be kept "out of the reach of children" then. They were in a six-foot set of shelves somewhere.

I suppose I had no taste in clothing at the time, as most of my clothes came from there. Well, let's be honest -- they were much nicer and more stylish than clothes at Sears. (Oh, those horrible Sears Toughskin jeans with the rubber inside the knees!)

The department store side, which started to the right of the checkouts, was easily twice the size of what you see here. It had a lot of selection, and lots of good specialty counters. There was a photo counter at the front of the store (pretty much under the photographer, who was up in the balcony where the restrooms were). They sold things at fair prices, and gave good and honest sales help. There was a hobby counter in the far back right corner.

Speaking of the restrooms, they had seats that automatically flipped up into the back of the toilet, with UV lights to "sanitize" them. Spooky.

The current Giant Food store at that site, which my friends call the "Gucci Giant," is on the former department store side. When they first shut down the three Super Giant department stores, they left the grocery store were it was. I think about the time that White Flint Mall started "upscaling" Rockville Pike, they built a much fancier store on the old department store side.

Compared to now, Rockville Pike was very working class, very blue collar. Congressional Plaza (on the site of the former Congressional Airport) had a JC Penney as the anchor, and a Giant Food. Near the Super Giant was an EJ Korvettes, now the site of G Street Decorator Fabrics. A little off Rockville Pike was GEM -- Government Employees Membership. These were the days when "Fair Trade" pricing (price fixing) was still legal, and enforceable everywhere but the District of Columbia. But GEM, being a "membership" store, could discount, so that's where you bought Fair Trade products like Farberware at a discount. Of course, GEM had to compete with discount stores in the District, which Congress had conveniently exempted from the Fair Trade Act, so they could shop cheaply.

I Remember It Well

I grew up in Rockville, MD and was in this store many times. It was a full "one stop" department store with a grocery store attached. I loved going there with my mother because while she was grocery shopping I could make my way to the toy department. Kid nirvana!

Proto-Walmart

This store was huge and it was quite unique in the same model as today's Walmart with groceries, clothing, etc. It is odd that the concept did not survive in that era considering the success of Walmart today. Personally, as a kid, I didn't like it when my mom got clothes for me from there. They were the off-brands.

I also remember the GEM membership store which was in the current Mid-Pike Plaza on the opposing SW corner, which was a precursor to Price Club except that it didn't have groceries.

Fiberglass tubs on conveyor belts.

Great picture & website. I remember them bagging your groceries, putting them in fiberglass tubs, and giving you a placard with a 3 digit number on it. The tub would go on a conveyor belt to the outside of the store, you'd drive up, and they'd take your placard and load your groceries. Wonder if there are any pictures of those...

Gurskyesque

This reminds me of Andreas Gursky's photo "99 Cent" -- it could almost have been taken in the same place.

Super Giant

The Super Giant was in the shopping center that now has a Sports Authority, Old Navy and a much smaller Giant.

Super Giant was similar to what you would find at WalMart now -- part department store, part grocery store.

I grew up in Rockville and we used to shop there all the time, until they closed that is. Guess the world wasn't ready for that combination.

I could be in that picture, but I'd be too young to walk.

Smaller aisles and carts!

Because people are much bigger these days, everything else is too! I remember shopping with my mom and for the big holidays and having to use more than one cart.

Pre-Obesity Epidemic

And look. No great big fat people. Sure, there a couple of middle-agers spreading out here & there, but you know the ones I mean.

Multi-tasking fingers

>> the columns of keys were dedicated to 10's, 1's, 10 cents, 1 cent.

And a really good clerk would be pressing at least two keys at a time, which modern keypads can't do.

Pure gold.

What could lure me from my busy, lurk-only status? Only this amazing photo!

Wow. Just wow. And not a cell phone in sight...

Warehouse Look

Say goodbye to this timeless shot and hello to the warehouse stylings of the local Costco. Grocery stores have been jazzing up their interiors hoping to attract and keep customers. It's not working. When I go to one, they are far less busy than even in the recent past. They have cut the payrolls down significantly here in San Diego due to losing profit to the warehouses.

Consequently, the help is far less competent, far younger, far less helpful, and far below the wage scales of the wonderful veterans they cannot really replace.

We need some grocery stores for certain smallish items that the warehouse giants will never carry. But they will dwindle down to a very precious few, and do it soon. Of course, this grandiose Super Giant displaced their mom-and-pop competitors. Same tune, different singers.

White Markets

In Knoxville we had groceries called White Stores that looked like most any other grocery of the late 70's, early 80's: Dimly lit with greenish fluorescent tubes, bare-bones interior decoration, and indeed a Brach's candy bin.

My mom used Green Stamps for years. It took eons to fill a book. At the White Stores you could "buy" various pieces of merchandise. She got a floor lamp one year and a set of Corning Ware the next.

It seems like over the last 5-10 years, they've made grocery stores all upscale looking. Almost makes you feel like you're getting ripped off.

Brown paper packages tied up with string

This is such an amazing photo -- I love it!

As someone who was still 12 years away from being born when this photo was taken, I'm not familiar with the old customs. What kind of items would have been wrapped up in brown paper like the woman in line at register 7 has? It looks like a big box, so that ruled out meats or feminine products in my mind ...any ideas?

[It's probably her laundry. - Dave]

Making Change

As those cash registers (most likely) didn't display the change due, the cashiers actually had to know how to make change.

[Cash registers waaay back in 1964 (and before) did indeed show change due. And sometimes were even connected to a change-maker that spit your coins into a little tray. - Dave]

A & P

See the short story by John Updike for the perfect literary pairing to this photo. Well, in my opinion anyways; it's the first thing that came to mind upon seeing it.

I Remember Those Elephants!

My great-grandma lived in Rockville at that time and I remember those elephants!! What a floodgate of memories just opened up! Thanks again, Dave!

[Now we know why memory and elephants go together. - Dave]

Amazing how pictures take you back

This is what grocery stores looked like when I was a wee lass in the '70's. This could have been our local A&P, except the freezer cases would have been brown instead of white.

And I bet if you checked the ingredients on the packages those thin people are buying, you wouldn't see corn syrup as a top-ten ingredient of non-dessert items.

Relative Costs

My mother kept note of her grocery bills for 40 years -- and in 1962 complained that it cost $12 a week to feed a family of four. Considering that my dad's salary was $75 a week, that was indeed a lot of money. We used to save Green Stamps, Plaid Stamps, and cigar bands for giveaways in the store.

[That's a good point. I had to chuckle when I noticed that the most these registers could ring up is $99.99. - Dave]

Checking Receipts

We don't check every price - just the sale prices which are listed in the weekly ad, available at the front of the store. Sometimes the ad price doesn't get properly entered into the computer, so I pay attention, especially if it's a significant savings.

Stamp dispensers

When I was a kid back in the late sixties, there were stamp dispenser next to each cash register, with a dial a lot like a telephone dial that would spew stamps as the cashier turned it. I'm surprised they don't have a similar thing in this store.

[The grocery store we went to had an electric thingy that spit them out. Which looked a lot like the brown boxes shown in the photo. - Dave]

Checking Receipts

I worked in a store just like this while in high school in the early '70s. The main difference I've noticed is that Sunday is a major shopping day now. Our store was open on Sunday, because the crosstown rival was open. We (and they) didn't do enough business to pay for the lights being on. Two people ran the store on Sundays - a checker and a stocker/bagboy. And we didn't have much to do. All we ever saw was people picking up a single item or picnic supplies. How times have changed.

Now we check the receipt for mistakes made in shelf pricing. Did I get charged the sale price or not?

[So after your groceries are rung up, you go back down the aisles checking the receipt against the shelf prices? Or you make note of the shelf prices while you're shopping? That's what I call diligent. - Dave]

Deja vu

My supermarket experience goes back about 10 years before this one . . . but what a photo!

We had women cashiers, and man, were they fast. I was a stock clerk and bagger, and had to move fast to get the groceries in those brown paper bags (no plastic). I also had to wear a white shirt and bow tie. Naturally, we took the groceries to the car for customers and put them in the car or trunk, wherever asked. That was known as customer service.

We, too, gave S & H green stamps, although Top Value stamps were available a number of places.

Brach's candy display

The shot of the boy near the candy display reminds me of a time back in the very early 1960s where I did help myself to a piece or two. I looked up, saw an employee looking at me and boy, I was scared to death he would tell my parents.

Also, with the evolution in scanning and so forth, it brought to an end, more or less, of checking the receipt tape against the stamped prices for mistakes the checker made.

Price checker

My father was a lifelong grocery man, making a cycle from clerk to manager to owner and finally back to clerking in the 1950s until he retired in 1966. He took pride in doing his job well, whatever it was. Each night, sitting in his green leather chair, he'd read our two newspapers, one local and one city, end to end. One night I noticed that he'd paused for quite some time at the full-page weekly ad for the market he worked at and I asked him why. He was memorizing the prices of the specials starting the next day.

Lived next to one just like it in Virginia

This is just like the Super Giant on South Glebe Road in Arlington, close by where my family was living in 1964. It's where my mother shopped and I loved to accompany her and browse around. You could buy anything from a live lobster to a coat, and just like the Rockville store, it was 20 minutes from downtown Washington.

Blue Stamps

While I miss the concept of Blue Stamps or trading stamps, I get points from my store and they send me a check each quarter to use in the store.

I have one premium my parents redeemed from a trading stamp program - a really hideous waterfront print which they had in their home until they divorced. I claimed it from my father and it's hung in the laundry room of every house I've ever lived in since I moved on my own.

I remember the old way grocery stores were laid out, and I was always fascinated by the registers.

Link: Whatever Happened to Green Stamps?

[Down where I come from we had S&H Green Stamps -- Sperry and Hutchinson. And "redemption centers" chock-full of cheesy merchandise. Or you could get cash. When I was in college I chose cash. My fingers would be all green (and minty) from sticking wet stamps in the redemption books. - Dave]

Reality

Thats a highly posed photo. Everyone in the photo would have had to sign a model release for this to be published in Life. It is "possible" that the people where chosen for their looks.

[I've worked in publishing for over 20 years. You wouldn't need a release for any picture taken in a public place, and certainly not for a crowd or group shot. Actually you don't need releases at all. Some publishers may have looked at them as insurance against lawsuits for invasion of privacy. Probably most didn't bother. As for "posed," I doubt it. - Dave]

Mama can I have a penny?

You know what would be right next to the electric doors (and that big rubber mat you had to step on to make them open) -- a row of gumball machines! Whatever happened to those? I loved just looking at them. Those glass globes, all those colorful gumballs. Sigh.

More of these please

I add my request for more photos like this of just ordinary life from the '50s & '60s. Sure brings back memories of simpler and I think happier times. When I was a kid I used to imagine how marvelous life would be fifty years hence in the 21st century. Well I'm there now -- and I'd like to go back to the 1950s please.

[And you can, thanks to the magic of the Inter-nets! I wonder when we'll have those TVs you can hang on the wall like a painting. And Picture-Phones. Can't wait. - Dave]

Top Value Stamps

My mother collected those, they were also used at Kroger's in the Middle South. What surprises me is that there are no cigarette racks at the checkouts. When I was a kid, every grocery store had the cigarette packs in racks right at the checkouts, with a sign screaming "Buy A Pack Today!" Maybe it was a Maryland thing. I also remember drugstores and groceries where cigarettes were sold only in the pharmacies. Go figure.

Wow. Just wow.

I, too, worked in a grocery store in the late-70s when I was in high school. As earlier commented, apparently not a whole lot changed from when this picture was taken to then (well, except the hairstyles and clothes -- which changed a *lot*).

I remember the registers well -- the columns of keys were dedicated to 10's, 1's, 10 cents, 1 cent. The large palm-contoured key to the right would "enter" in the decimal digits. Lots of noise and moving parts. A good cashier could move the goods along the conveyor belt as quickly as the scanners of today. The rapid spinning of numbers on the register display was mesmerizing. The one big holdup was the dreaded "price check" if a stocker had to be summoned -- but more often the checker already had the price memorized (good thing too, since price label "swapping" was a problem).

I stocked shelves using the incredibly complicated but efficient label gun used to print and affix the prices to the products. As a stocker you had a large holster that held this amazing device.

The more I think about it, things have not changed that much.

We still have lines, conveyor belts, "separators," shopping carts, impulse displays, checkers, baggers, stockers, butchers, and produce guys (the latter two being union jobs).

At least until the self checkout and then later RFID based systems (you just walk out of the store with the goods and the store will automatically figure this out and bill your card).

Rockville Super Giant

The 25,000-square-foot Super Giant that's the subject of this post opened November 12, 1962, at 12051 Rockville Pike at Randolph Road, anchoring a 205,000-square-foot discount shopping center with 3,000-car parking lot (and a "Jolly Trolley" to get you from car to store). Today it's a "lifestyle center" called Montrose Crossing.

Below: A long time ago, in a shopping center far, far away ...

Do we know the address?

My partner and I -- en route to Bob's Noodle House -- have wondered about the origins of a now-empty grocery store in Rockville, near "downtown." Perhaps this Super Giant? Certainly of this era.

You can just make it out in the middle of this view -- between the bus shelter and the tree -- through the parking lots.

[The Super Giant was at 12051 Rockville Pike and Randolph Road, where Montrose Crossing is today. See the next comment up. - Dave]


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Fantastic Photo!

Even though it's far "younger" that most of the great photos that Shorpy features, it's one of the most fascinating you've ever put up here. I can't take my eyes off it.

And just think...

This could be one of the few larger group Shorpy pictures where most of the folks are still alive. The cute girl in the cart would be my sister's age; the adults are mostly in the mid-late 20s to early 40s range, giving them ages from the high 60s to the mid 80s. The older kids would still only be in their fifties. Anyone from Rockville know these folks?

Modern Life

The Life cereal box behind the Rice Chex is virtually unchanged!

Charge-a-plates

They go back to at least the 40's -- I remember them well. It was metal and specially notched for each of the stores which accepted them and where you had a charge account. Current plastic models, good for almost anything, are great but far less secure.

Gee

Sure were a lot of Caucasians back in 1964.

Credit cards?

Are them Credit Card Imprinters on the registers? I didn't think grocery stores took credit cards until the late 80's.

[The imprinters would be for charge cards, which for gas stations, grocery stores and other retailers go back at least to the 1950s and the era of the Charga-Plate. Charge accounts go back even farther, to the early days of retailing. Below: Artwork from a 1966 newspaper ad. What goes back to the late 80s is using bank-issued credit cards as an everyday substitute for cash, as opposed to merchant charge accounts, which generally had to be paid in full at the end of the month. - Dave]

Plaid Elephant

Didn't that fellow come from the Island of Misfit Toys? Nice to see him or her gainfully employed.

Twins?

Look at the two ladies above checkout #7 and #8. They could be twins .. at least sisters. I love this photo ... there is so much to see! Funny how the Clorox label has not changed. That's good branding!

A refreshing lack of "expression"

Nary a tattoo nor a facial piercing in sight.

 
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