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District Grocery Store: 1935

District Grocery Store: 1935

Washington, D.C., circa 1935. "Interior of D.G.S. store." Home of the 19-cent Super Sale. Our second look today at a District Grocery Store. 8x10 inch acetate negative, National Photo Company Collection. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Good afternoon Mrs. Nowakowski.

There used to be stores like this and smaller every other block in the 50's and 60's. You only drove or walked to the 'Big' store for fresh meat and fruit, the corner store carried all your other needs, from milk to butter to eggs. We had a Polska, Italian and German store all within six blocks. You could choose from Kielbasa, Braciole or Schnitzel every week. I miss those homemade specials.

Location, Location, Location

The store in the picture was located at 300 Maryland Avenue, NE. It remained open until sometime around 1970. My Grandfather was the proprietor until he sold the business in 1940. I had to match nail marks in the trim with other pictures to confirm the location. According to my father who lived upstairs there until he was 13, many of the stores looked the same.

"One of the largest"

The Post's John Kelly recently provided a short history of DGS, including its dissolution in the early 70s.

Can of Corn

In baseball terminology a can of corn is a high, easy-to-catch, fly ball hit to the outfield. The phrase is said to have originated in the nineteenth-century and relates to an old-time grocer’s method of getting canned goods down from a high shelf.

Using a stick with a hook on the end, a grocer could tip a can so that it would fall for an easy catch into his apron. One theory for use of corn as the canned good in the phrase is that a can of corn was considered the easiest "catch" as corn was the best selling vegetable in the store and so was heavily stocked on the lowest shelves.

Hodgepodge II

I tend to agree that the other picture is a back room of the same store. Thus, one again, my comments were made too quickly on the other photo. Oh well. Still great to see how store design has evolved and to see how many brands have survived these last 86 plus years.

Still the Same

I see many brands and products that are still available today: Bisquick, Rice Krispies, Cream of Wheat and Aunt Jemima, just to name a few.

What a great looking store! Can I please take a nickel and go buy some candy, Mom?

Faceless Wheaties

Just the year before, Wheaties began its still current practice of depicting sports stars on the front of the box, with baseball player Lou Gehrig and aviator Elinor Smith. Yet the boxes in the upper right of the photo are without faces to stare at breakfasters.

Oscar vs Felix

At first I thought these were two sides of the same room. But the floors don't match. I can think of no reason why one would put tile over a wood floor in part of a room.

Then I wondered if one was a back room, and this was a two room store. That could still be, but why would the proprietor make one neat and tidy for the photographer, and leave the other such a mess?

So I am voting for the theory that these are two different stores from the chain, one run by the neatnik, the other not. Neatniks don't clean one area and ignore the rest of a place. They have a compulsion to clean it all up.

[The ceiling and light fixtures are the same in both images. The other photo seems to show a back room. - Dave]

A winning recipe

The Campbell's Soup label looks pretty much the same as it did back then. Mmm, mmm (still) good!

This is where the Uneeda biscuits went

Old folks around home used to say that back in the day they could walk into a grocery store with 25 cents and walk out with bread and milk and the newspaper besides - to which my nephew once replied that there were no surveillance cameras back then.

I always liked to watch the clerk operate that tool

to retrieve the stuff high up. You can see it leaning against the shelves. It was a lot faster than getting the stepladder. If he got really good at it, he would just have to tip the box or can, catching it as it fell from the top shelf.

Those were the days when you gave your shopping list to the clerk. He or she would "order pick" from your list.

I noticed recently that they've changed Aunt Jemima; she's dropped a few. She's looking more like Diana Ross these days. I guess having someone look like she needed Weight Watchers wasn't a good image for their product.

This Store

Not unlike our father's store here:

Same Store?

Same ceilings.

Nice vs Nasty

Is this store the one in the nice neighborhood vs the last picture which reminds me of the older Bohacks that always seemed to be in the turning or already turned bad neighborhoods.

[The two photos may show the same store. - Dave]

The Upside

I wonder if the Chipso Suds Company ever sent their reps around to check on product placement.

A store after my own pocketbook

Wow! Those great prices! That's the store I wanna shop at!! ;D In all seriousness, my dad told me that at times, more often than not, during the depression my grandfather "didn't have but one dime to rub in his pocket" and he had 9 kids plus him and his wife to feed. I would imagine he would have liked to buy a few things with his dime but even these prices wouldn't have bought him much. He was a farmer so they lived mostly off the land and crops. They were fortunate.

Neighborhood Feel

Love it. Reminds me of seeing my grandparents in Pennsylvania in the early '60s, and visiting the same type markets and stores. Having been raised in Alexandria, just across the river, that same feeling has been long gone for some time.

Cooperative Group

Previously: D.G.S. Celebrates 15th Anniversary.

Washington Post, Jan 29, 1936.
The District Grocery Store in your community is not just "a grocery store on the corner." It is a member store of an organization of two hundred and sixty similar stores primarily organized for collective purchasing, distributing and advertising of food products. These stores are known as a "cooperative group" and that is exactly how District Grocery Stores function, cooperatively.

District Grocery Stores are owned and conducted by experienced men who live in your own community. Their own money is invested in their own stores, and naturally, they, are interested in your welfare as well as that of the entire community. In short, your nearest District Grocery Store, in personnel and in spirit is an integral part of your neighborhood.

District Grocery Stores, individually and collectively spend money locally — just as you do — in patronizing Washington industries. The money you spend in District Grocery Stores goes back into the community in the form of salaries, rent, taxes, fuel, local purchases and advertising in local newspapers.

District Grocery Stores deserve your patronage because they are part of a Washington institution, operating by Washington men and women who are interested in the the future of Washington.


I saw Wheatena on an upper shelf. It was one of my favorite cereals when I was a child. I haven't seen it in stores for two decades. However, it is still obtainable online:
(Minimum quantity: 4 Boxes)

Fruit and vegetable marketing

Looks like they where spraying them with wax back in the day, just like today, to make them shiner.

These pictures are making me hungry!

With apologies to Seinfeld, these pictures are a delight. Two things I noticed: the apparent absence of the "White Rose" brand of goods in this store, and the lack of refrigeration of the fruits and vegetables. The meat counter shows refrigeration was available. In an earlier photo, I noticed cartons of eggs placed near shelving without cooling - a practice that continues in Europe.

Many familiar brands can be seen on the top shelf - Heinz cereal ("Rice Flakes")! I wonder if the "DGS" chain of stores were individually owned and operated - a precursor to the "IGA" chain?

Always Use a Condim(ent)!

In both of these D. G. S. Stores [I think they're both the same store. - Dave], I notice there appear to be a disproportionately large number of condiments, i.e. sauces and flavor enhancements compared to the basic necessities in stock. Chutneys, relishes,pickled things,kraut,horseradish, ketchup, mustards, etc. appear in abundance. One wonders if meats and main dishes had to be smothered in strong extras in order to taste better. Both my mom and grandma canned vast quantities of garden relishes every summer, including home made ketchup, chili sauce, green tomato relish, eggplant antipasto and others, although as a kid I refused to sample any of it. Even in old age, I still prefer to taste what I'm eating and not the garnish in which it is drowned.

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