They say a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, let's take a walk down memory lane and reminisce about the "good old days" when grocery stores didn't have a trillion potato chip brands to choose from and shoppers could purchase anything without having to think about their impact on the environment.
The golden era when paper boys delivered newspapers door to door and people used to dress nicely just to visit the local grocery store is a far cry from today's world. What did shopping for groceries look like in the past few decades? Let's explore.
Not Everything Was for Sale
In the past, there were no Whole Foods or hipster specialty stores that sold imported fresh produce from all over the world. As a customer, it would be easy to find local fresh goods at a regular supermarket store since grocery stores offered high quality local produce and goods. Plus, there weren’t a million brands to choose from. I mean, do we really need 50 different brands of cheddar potato chips?
Customers Also Liked to Dress Well
Of course, back in those days, customers liked to get dolled up for a trip to the supermarket, too. Not only was it considered a sign of respect, but looking put together was a way to tell the world that someone was a valuable member of society.
The Preferred Packaging was Glass
Now, companies are trying to actively eliminate or reduce single-time plastic waste by switching to eco-friendly packaging. Well, back in the '50s, everything came in a glass container. Does it get any eco-friendlier than glass? Didn’t think so! Maybe it’s time to let the past inspire our future.
Dressed Up to the Max
While today’s supermarket chain stores allow employees to dress up in comfortable attire, (or a plain uniform provided by the company) back in the mid-20th century, employees used to go all out. Their uniforms were pristine, well put together, and formal. Clearly, comfy slacks and crocs wouldn’t have cut it back in the day.
Horses and Buggies Were Common
It’s not something that many people see often anymore, but during the turn of the century, it wasn’t uncommon for people to arrive at the grocery store in a horse and buggy. Groceries were also delivered to the store by vehicles such as this dairy truck.
Country Store on a Dirt Road Doubles as a Gas Station
This photo was taken in 1939 and it depicts an old country store in Gordonton, North Carolina. At a second glance, it’s easy to notice the kerosene pump on the right and the gasoline pump on the left, meaning that this was a location where people filled up their cars and other appliances with fuel. The man standing in the doorway is the brother of the man who owned the store.
Late 19th Century Grocery Store
The 1890’s were a time of fantastic fashion. For example, hats like the one the woman in the photo is wearing were normal fixtures of everyday style. But women’s skirts never went above the ankle and it was normal for women and men to wear long sleeved shirts even on the hottest of days.
1980’s Soda Aisle
This photo is truly a sight to behold because all of these liters of soda were packaged in glass, not plastic. It’s uncommon to see any beverages still packaged in glass today because plastic is more light weight and less breakable. Those vintage logos on the Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper bottles are sure to bring back some memories.
Cashiers at the Piggly Wiggly Continental in 1962
This photo was taken at a Piggly Wiggly Continental in Encino, California in the ‘60s. The store was meant to be a gourmet-oriented location and they stocked international cheeses and tons of wine. The location also had a fully stocked gift and cosmetics counter, but the store sadly closed in the ‘80s.
Publix Supermarket Shows Off Their Wide Aisles
In 1957, Publix Supermarkets, which are a fixture in the Southeastern United States, showed off their wide aisles by driving a shopper around the store in a tiny car. They were also advertising their self-service dairy case full of cheese products, which was a big draw at the time.
The First Self-Service Grocery Store
We’re all used to going into the grocery store and picking out what we need for ourselves, but before 1916, when this store was opened, it was still normal to bring your list to the front counter for someone else to tend to. This photo was taken in 1918 in Memphis, Tennessee and it was the original Piggy Wiggly location.
1961 Publix Market in Sarasota, Florida
Publix is the most popular grocery store chain in Florida, and they opened their first location in Winter Haven, Florida in 1930. This photo was taken at the chain’s Sarasota location in 1961 and the vintage cars are a sight to behold. By the ’60s, Publix was the dominant supermarket chain in Central Florida, so they began expanding towards South Florida.
Bachelor Shopping in Greenbelt, Maryland in 1938
It’s common to see photos of women doing the shopping for their families, so it’s a breath of fresh air to see a man in the ‘30s, with his baby in tow, in the produce aisle! This photo was taken in a co-op store, where shoppers get to decide which products are stocked on the shelves.
Store Owners in Bremerton, Washington in 1925
This photo was posted to Reddit by the great-great-grandchild of the people in this photo. It’s easy to spot the couple behind the counter with their employee and their shelves are completely stocked with every good that can be imagined. Fresh produce, canned goods and bread are in sight.
The signage on the wall of this store says it all. The sign simply reads, “Where shopping is a pleasure.” Its not clear where this store was located, but it may have been in a warmer climate because of the palm tree decor. The pastel greens and wood paneling make it unmistakably ‘60s, though!
Working Mother Jennie Magill Shops With Her Kids in 1956
This photo of a glamorous woman and her two children in the freezer aisle was taken in 1956, when it was still common for women to take care of shopping, cooking and cleaning for her entire family. Jennie Magill was 27 years old when this photo was taken and she was also a working woman at the time.
Woman Opens Her Store in Cincinnati, Ohio
This photo was posted to Reddit by the great-great-grandchild of the woman in the photo, who opened her own grocery store in Cincinnati. The vintage Tide and Ivory soap packaging are interesting to see, along with the wall of canned goods behind her. This photo really looks like it is directly out of a 1930s motion picture.
The Super Giant Supermarket in Rockville, Maryland, 1964
The vintage ‘60s fashion in this photo is a great testament to the fact that people used to dress up to do their errands on a regular basis. Stores like this, which stocked tons of products in every aisle, weren’t exactly normal in the ‘60s. It wasn’t until 1962 that the first Walmart location opened and it wasn’t until many years later that they opened more locations across the country.
The Dairy Counter at Clark’s Department Store in 1963
This photo, which was taken in the early ‘60s, shows off the unique ways that small grocery stores promoted their products, including eggs, milk, whipped cream, meat and ice. This photo was taken at Clark’s, a grocery, drug, sundries and department store located in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A Cooperative Store in Georgia in 1939
This photo was also taken in a co-op store, which is run by shoppers of the store instead of a large company. Co-ops typically offer more natural food options than other outlets because customers get to choose what is stocked in the store. This store was located in Irwinville Farms, Georgia and they stocked everything from canned goods to motor oil.
Pat Nixon, Wife of Richard, Shops with Her Daughters
This photo, taken in 1958 while Richard Nixon was Vice President to Dwight D. Eisenhower, shows Pat, Julie and Tricia shopping in the aisles of a small store and picking out some staples. Food items visible in the photo include Campbell’s Soup, pasta and baking mixes.
1970s Ad Showcases Tons of Vintage Foods
This vintage ad showing a grocery store checkout aisle is an old design goldmine. Some of the products that are visible include Ruffles potato chips, Flings, Tony’s Pizza, RyKrisp, Planter’s peanuts, Fritos and Cheddar Taters. Many of these brands are still around today and they’re tastier than ever.
Delivery Vans Line Up Outside a Store in 1942
These red wagons used to be the way that groceries were delivered to homes. And the kids sitting on the wagons were waiting for their jobs to start, as many kids took on work during the ‘30s and ‘40s. They were lined up outside the store waiting for customers before the store in Greenbelt, Maryland opened for the morning.
Ralphs Supermarket in Los Angeles, 1942
Ralphs is a supermarket chain in Southern California and it’s the oldest grocery chain still operating in the Western United States. This store is probably still open today, as there are many Ralphs locations throughout the city, but there probably aren’t as many vintage cars parked out front now.
At The Grocery Store, 1950s
At a first glance, it would be easy to mistake this red-haired woman for Lucille Ball, but it’s not the famous television actress. This woman is just doing her grocery shopping in a store in the ‘50s. You can also spot some vintage Crest toothpaste packaging in the background.
Interior of Ralph's, November 1943
This photo of a Los Angeles Ralph's location gives a rare glimpse of the cash registers that grocery store employees used to deal with. The huge piece of machinery is far from the digital service systems that grocery store employees use today and required a lot more upkeep to keep them in tip top shape.
Interior of Swedish Grocery Store, Circa 1908
This photo of a Swedish grocery store during the turn of the century features a slew of employees, like the clerks behind the sales counter and women at the charcuterie counter. The photo also features a delivery man grabbing a basket filled with goods to send off. The store’s walls are lined with various products for shoppers to explore.
Picture Perfect Shopping in the 1950s
What is most pleasant about this photo isn’t just the woman’s gorgeous color-coordinated outfit and perfectly in place hairstyle. Just the sight of the vintage packaging of fruits and veggies, with no need for plastic bags or disposable plastic containers, is enough to make anyone who is thinking about minimizing their carbon footprint overjoyed.
Children Waiting In Front of a Grocery Store, 1941
This sweet photo was taken in Chicago, Illinois in 1941 and features two young children waiting for their parents outside of a grocery store. This isn’t something that any parent would do today, but in olden times it wasn’t out of the ordinary to leave something valuable, like a car or a carriage full of kids, on the sidewalk knowing that it wouldn’t be messed with.
Jitney Jungle Checkout Clerk
The cashier in this photo is Billy Barineau and the photo was taken in Tallahassee, Florida in 1962. If the name Jitney Jungle isn’t familiar to you, that’s because it was a chain of supermarkets that was acquired by Winn-Dixie in 2000. They had over 100 locations at their peak in the ‘90s, and some of them are still in operation under their original name today.
Jayne Mansfield Shops in Las Vegas
Jayne Mansfield was at the top of her game in 1959, when this photo was taken. The blonde bombshell starred in movies like 1956’s “The Girl Can’t Help It” and 1960’s “Too Hot to Handle.” In this photo, it’s obvious why she never failed to turn heads, even when simply making a trip to the grocery store!
An American Supermarket in the ‘70s
This picture, taken in the early ‘70s, shows off some absolutely fantastic hairdos on the women photoed. You can also catch a glimpse of some vintage packaging and prices for brands like Ritz crackers and Jell-O mixes. And the style of shopping cart is very similar to the carts that are available today, expect most of them were made without kid’s seats in the front.
A Man and His Dogs in Robinson, Illinois
This photo was taken in front of a grocery store in 1940. The store window features some incredible prices, like just nine cents for a pound of ground beef, which adjusted for inflation would be $1.67 today. Considering that most beef was grass fed at the time, this price would be a great deal in 2020.
A Family-Run Grocery Store in 1960
This photo was posted by this man’s great-granddaughter, who noted that her great-grandfather was the owner of this grocery store when the photo was taken in Evansville, Indiana in 1960. Back in the days before big box grocery stores like Walmart and Target, most grocery stores were run by families and they looked a lot like this.
Home Turned Into Grocery Store, 1938
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, some people did things to make money that don’t seem obvious today. This person in Omaha, Nebraska turned their home into a grocery store to make ends meet and the result was absolutely beautiful. Hopefully the owner got plenty of time to sit on the rocking chair on the porch while they weren’t working.
Grocery Shopping in 1938
This photo was taken in Blankenship, Indiana in 1938, which was a time when Americans were still in the midst of the Great Depression. So this woman was probably carefully thinking about the loaf of bread she was buying. And this photo also shows a glimpse of the old packaging styles of both Quaker Oats and Wheaties cereal.
Working at a General Store in 1973
This woman recently posted a photo of herself online from her time working at a general store in the ‘70s. Her hairstyle and striped shirt are a dead giveaway to guess the era when the photo was taken. Some notable brands in the photo that are sure to boost your nostalgia are Coca-Cola, Herbal Essence shampoo and Contac cold and flu medicine.
Fashionable Food Shopping, 1970
This photo was taken in the year 1970, when mini-skirts were still very much in fashion. This woman looks like a supermodel in the empty aisles of this grocery store. And it’s nice to see that Campbell’s soup packaging hasn’t changed much in five decades. The soup cans are still instantly recognizable in the back of this photo.
Tulip Town Market in 1945
This photo was taken in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on July 4, 1945 during World War II. One thing of note is that there aren’t any shopping carts or shopping bags in the photo, just wooden crates at the end of each cashier’s line. These were probably used instead of disposable paper or plastic bags by customers and then brought back to the store for their next shopping trip.
The Frozen Meat Aisle of the 1950s
These women might seem like they’re showing off their newest fashions on a trip to the grocery store, but back in the day it wasn’t out of the ordinary for people to put on a formal outfit to run some errands. And each of these women chose to wear high heels for a trip to the grocery store, something you don’t see much today, either.
Crackers and Cookies Aisle of 1942
Taken in Greenbelt, Maryland, this photo shows a mother and son walking through the grocery store and buying some crackers. It’s interesting to see so many classic tins and cardboard boxes on the shelves instead of plastic packaging. Because this picture was taken during World War II, this family might have had to ration what they were purchasing.
Thriftmart Parking Lot in 1959
This photo was taken in West Covina, California in 1959 and the cars in this lot will give any vintage car fan envy! One of the prices advertised in the window is two avocados for 25 cents, which would be a total steal today. But, adjusting that price for inflation would mean that two avocados were worth about $2.38 in today’s terms, which isn’t the bargain it may seem to be.
1970s Grocery Haul
1974 was nearly 50 years ago, but many of the items in this cart are still available in grocery stores today, although their packaging might look different. Corn flakes, Schwepps ginger ale and Kraft macaroni and cheese can be found in this cart. What would your shopping cart look like if you could shop only for items that were available in the ‘70s?
Milkmen Visited People’s Homes
Milkmen used to come by people’s homes and deliver fresh milk door to door. How epic would it be to run out of milk only to hear the milkman knocking on the door? Nowadays, if someone wants milk, they have to run to the grocery store or get some on Postmates (and feel guilty over being so lazy!). Been there, done that.
The facades of the first few large supermarket chains were really bright and bold, with a unique style of architecture. Nowadays, supermarkets and large chain stores sort of look like sterile gigantic warehouses... which is practical, sure, but admittedly less inviting.
Specialty Stores Still Existed
If a customer needed to buy meat, fish, cheese, or even underwear or a toy, they couldn’t just head to a major chain store like Target and get it all at once. They had to visit several different specialty shops in order to get everything they needed.
Meat Consumption Was Higher
Back in those days, people used to consume way more meat than we do today. With veganism and the vegetarian movement, meat consumption has been reduced drastically throughout the years. In fact, the meat section in today's supermarkets are a few sizes smaller and the selection isn’t as large as it used to be in the past.
There were no mainstream diets like Keto, Paleo, Atkins, Macrobiotic, or the Stirfry diet. People were not invested in the diet craze of today’s world. While they did struggle with some questionable eating habits, fad diets didn’t become popular until the 1930s, when the first low-cal diet became popular. It was also known as the “Hollywood Diet.”
Coupons for Everyone
There are tons of ways to get a good discount at the store. There are websites, apps, and even club cards. But in order to get more bang for your buck, people had to prepare their coupons and cut them out before leaving the house.
This is still somewhat true today, but there are lots of popular brands that used to be in every household in America. But somewhere along the way, these brands disappeared, got replaced, or were completely rebranded or bought by another company.
Everybody Knew Everybody at the Local Supermarket
Supermarkets were a great place to socialize. People would run into friends, family, or coworkers, so there was a lot of socializing going on in the aisles. It’s a stark contrast to today’s world where it’s pretty hard to run into anyone you know while doing your weekly errands.
We all know that there’s more sugar than cereal in today’s cereal boxes, and there’s a reason for it: companies want people to get addicted to their product so they keep craving it. Starting the day off by consuming large quantities of sugar will only spike your insulin levels. But back in those days, cereals were a lot simpler than today's products, with more fiber and grains than sugar.
Cashiers Did Everything by Hand
Cashiers had to do their math on a piece of paper and add everything up on the spot. Receipts were actually written by hand once upon a time. Of course, this wasn’t sustainable in the long run as we would have to spend hours at the register and let’s face it, we have better things to do today than stand in line.
Back in the Cold War era, people were scared of nuclear bombs and truly lived in fear of being attacked any given day, so they stockpiled on long-term shelved groceries, kind of like what survivalists are still doing today to prepare for the “apocalypse.”
Newspaper Routes Were a Thing
Paper boys used to ride their bicycles and go door to door delivering newspapers. This wasn’t something a consumer would typically be able to find at the store. Nowadays, if we want to know what’s going on in the world, we can just login onto Reddit’s home page or visit the Huffington Post online.
Cash Was the Norm
Stores that don’t allow debit, credit card, checks, or other means of payments are far and few between. Some stores even let customers use PayPal. But it wasn’t until the '50s that consumers were able to use credit cards; so for a really long time, people had to paid in cash.
Carbs Have Always Been Cheap
Bread used to cost about 8 cents per pound in the 1940s, which would amount to $1.48 adjusted for inflation in today’s world. This means that bread has always been affordable and oh-so sinfully delicious.
Eggs Were Affordable
Eggs are a breakfast staple in all parts of the world. Venezuelans love to eat Perico, a traditional meal made of scrambled eggs, onion, tomatoes, and peppers accompanied by bread or arepas. A dozen eggs used to cost about $1.46 in the '40s, which today would amount to $6.12, (adjusted with inflation) which is what we’d expect to pay for a dozen organic eggs in 2020.
This crunchy and sizzling breakfast staple costs about $5 per pound, (and it’s worth every penny for some!) but back in the '40s, a pound of eggs cost a mere 27 cents. How crazy is that? But here’s the kicker: adjusted with inflation, it comes to be about $5, so bacon has always been on the expensive side.
Milk Was Just Milk
In the '40s, there weren’t any fun alternatives to cow milk. Anyone can walk into Whole Foods or Walmart and get some soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk, or even oat milk. But no one would’ve even dared to try these dairy-free alternatives back in the day. Cow milk used to cost about 25 cents per half gallon. Today, that would amount to about $4.64 adjusted with inflation. Ouch!
Prices Were Dirt Cheap
In the '40s and '50s, food, clothes, and houses were extremely cheap. Of course, $1 dollar in the 1940s isn’t the same as $1 dollar in 2020. But get a load of this: one 1950s dollar has the same purchasing power of a mere $10.80 in today’s world. How crazy is that? This explains why just about anyone who had a job was able to buy a home in the '50s.
Fruits Weren’t That Expensive
Fruits were seriously cheap back in 1940. A pound of fruit used to cost about 6 cents per pound, which adjusted for inflation, would be around $1.11. Today, the weighed average cost of all fruit is $0.71 cents per pound, which means that fruit didn’t get as expensive as other produce.