Groceries, and So Much More

Groceries, and So Much More

By Joan Fudala

From gathering places to gourmet wonderlands, Scottsdale grocery stores have had a delicious evolution since J.L. Davis opened the first general store here in 1897. We’ve seen family-
owned stores fade away and replaced by national supermarket chains. We’ve gone from a barter or cash-and-carry system, to flashing a card in front of an electronic reader to pay for our food and sundries. The grocery products, methods of payment and store names may change, but Scottsdale and the Phoenix metropolitan areas have always had great choices and convenience when it comes to food shopping.

Here’s a sample of tasty tidbits of Scottsdale’s grocery history:

• The first grocer in Scottsdale was J.L. Davis, who opened a general store and post office on what is now the southwest corner of Main Street and Brown Avenue in downtown Scottsdale. Davis and his family lived in a tent home attached to the rear of the store. Sara Coldwell Thomas provided the baked goods, and helped in the store/post office. Mrs. Thomas bought her boss out circa 1903, thus becoming the first female business owner in Scottsdale. Mrs. Thomas, a widowed mother of three, invited her brother-in-law E.O. Brown and his family to move from Wisconsin to help her run the store, which he did until his death in the 1930s.

• Brown’s General Store was the gathering spot for the small farming village of Scottsdale during the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s. Townsfolk not only came for groceries, supplies and to pick up/drop off mail, but also to catch up on town news and gossip.

• Before electricity—which finally arrived in Scottsdale circa 1918—ice to keep perishables cool had to be carted in from Phoenix. After the Scottsdale Light and Power Company began service, E.O. Brown added an ice house adjacent to Brown’s General Store, which was a major leap forward for local food purveyors.

• Byer’s Market opened on the northwest corner of Scottsdale and Main streets in the 1920s, and employed a Scottsdale High School lad, Earl Shipp. In the mid-1930s, Shipp bought the store from his boss, and continued to run Earl’s Market with his wife Idalee for decades. He helped many families weather the Great Depression by offering them credit until they could pay. After a fire destroyed the original location, Shipp built a new store a block south on Scottsdale Road, where he developed several other downtown retail shops.

• With no paved streets in early Scottsdale, and no air conditioning, grocers often left the front door open during business hours, or had a screen door entry. Dust covered the canned goods, but Scottsdale old-timers surely remember employees at Earl’s wiping the cans clean as they put them in grocery bags. In a 1990s oral history interview (now available on the Scottsdale Public Library’s website), rancher Dwight Hudson recalled that a steer veered from the herd during a cattle drive down Scottsdale Road from the ranches north of Scottsdale en route to the stockyards. The steer sauntered into Earl’s and began eating the produce. When Shipp discovered his nonpaying customer, he began swatting the steer on the rear until he could escort the animal back into the street. There’s a bit more to the story of the steer-caused havoc, but it’s a bit distasteful…so let’s leave it at that.

• Lillian and Marshall Kubelsky operated the Boston Store on the north side of Main Street in the 1920s. The store offered dry goods, furnishings, hats, shoes and groceries. Marshall’s first cousin was comedian Jack (Kubelsky) Benny, who visited Scottsdale several times. The shop’s location became the long-running Gay Nineties-themed Lulu Belle Restaurant circa 1954.

• In 1928, Jew Chew Song and his family purchased Johnny Rose’s pool hall on the northeast corner of Main Street and Brown Avenue, and converted it into a grocery. Chew’s Market carried products popular with shoppers from the adjacent Hispanic neighborhood and the nearby Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Mr. Song often traded his food products for those his customers had grown or made. The store is still owned by another generation of the Song family, who have been operating it as Mexican Imports since the 1960s.

• Most of the grocery stores in pre-World War II Scottsdale were locally owned and operated family businesses. Proprietors were aware of the impact of national events on their local customers and employees. During the Depression, Mahoney’s Market on Brown Avenue displayed a National Recovery Act sign, indicating that the owners conformed to hours, wages and other practices recommended by President Roosevelt’s New Deal program. Rationing during World War II affected grocers like Earl’s, Chew’s, Anderson’s, Walker’s Safeway Pay‘n Takit and others, just as it impacted shoppers. Earl Shipp used his weekly ads in the Scottsdale Progress to encourage Scottsdale residents to give blood or buy war bonds during the Korean War.

• Shoppers at early Scottsdale grocers—like Tamm’s, Brown’s, Byer’s, Earl’s, Davis Market, Chew’s, Willmoth’s, Burley’s Scottsdale Cash Grocery, Virden’s Market, Anderson’s, Black & White Market and others—might find on the shelves products such as locally grown produce and citrus, meats and poultry from local farms, lard, Coca-Cola in bottles, flour in sacks (that some Depression-era customers made into clothes and household furnishings like drapes), Gerber baby food, Campbell’s soup, Kellogg’s corn flakes and cigarettes. Mahoney’s also had a gas pump at its front entrance for cars, although many rode their horses into town to shop. The one thing that customers wouldn’t find was liquor, as Scottsdale was founded as a dry/temperate town, and didn’t allow alcohol to be sold until after Prohibition was repealed in the 1930s.

• With the population boom after World War II, and Scottsdale’s transition from farm town to a resort, art, business and residential community, grocers began to change, too. Although a few independent/single location grocers like Earl Shipp prospered, Valleywide chains like AJ Bayless, Bashas’ and others opened larger stores here. AJ Bayless was one of the two anchors when Scottsdale Fashion Square opened in 1961 (the other was Goldwater’s Department Store). Bashas’ had a location on the west side of Scottsdale Road, just south of Camelback. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Scottsdale neighborhoods welcomed Smitty’s Big Town, Alpha Beta, Lucky, Smith’s, Safeway, Fry’s and other supermarkets. They also welcomed convenience stores like Circle K and U Tote M.

• Joining a national craze for collecting and redeeming trading stamps for merchandise, most Scottsdale grocers gave customers S&H Green Stamps, Gold Bond and Top Value stamps with their purchases in the 1950s and 1960s. Gold Bond had a Redemption Center at Papago Plaza; S&H also had a local redemption center, popular with housewives, newlyweds and college-bound teens. Gone are trading stamps; now grocers offer coupons, loyalty card discounts and other promotions to get and keep customers.
• People living north of the Scottsdale Airport/Airpark area before the 1980s had to travel as far south as Scottsdale and Shea to buy groceries. Thunderbird Square brought convenient goods and services to Airpark employees and northern master-planned communities when it opened in 1982. Lucky’s was among the first groceries there; it later became an ABCO grocery store. Price Club opened in 1987, bringing a new concept for buying groceries in bulk to northern Scottsdale. During the 1990s, Albertson’s and Safeway opened in the Airpark area; Trader Joe’s brought its niche to The Promenade in 2000. Oakville Grocer came and went from Scottsdale Quarter circa 2010 and 2011. Walmart and Sam’s Club opened on Northsight in the early 2000s, offering groceries and so much more.

• Scottsdale north of the Central Arizona Project canal had limited food item availability at the Pinnacle Peak General Store as far back as the late 1970s, and finally got a supermarket when Safeway opened at The Pinnacle in 1990. AJ’s opened on the southeast corner of Pima and Pinnacle Peak roads in 1996; supermarkets have since opened in DC Ranch, The Summit and other northern Scottsdale neighborhoods. Sprouts opened at Silverstone, the former site of Rawhide theme park, earlier this year.

• Merger mania affected Arizona supermarket chains in the 1980s and 1990s. Just to name a few progressions—Bashas’ bought AJ Bayless, but honors the “AJ” name with its high-end boutique-like grocery stores. Smith’s bought Smitty’s in the 1990s, then became part of Fry’s (which became part of the Kroger Company). Price Club became part of Costco in 1993. Whole Foods acquired Wild Oats circa 2007. And the name/ownership changes continue.

• Scottsdale grocers have always had a big heart—supporting war bond drives; donating goods to local charities and food banks; allowing local youth, charitable and veterans groups to conduct fundraisers in front of their stores; collecting change at the check-out counters to benefit local causes; conducting recycling drives; offering discounts to seniors and military/veterans; and bringing in celebrities, chefs, teachers and events to make our lives just a little bit richer or more fun. Supermarket chains also sponsor major community events or use their ads to promote health and wellness.

How lucky we are to have had such a variety of sizes, types and locations for getting groceries. The grocery store is still a great place to run into a neighbor, have a cup of coffee, or support your favorite Scottsdale-area charity. See you in the produce aisle!

Joan Fudala is a Scottsdale-based community historian and author. Contact: jfudala@cox.net.