The supermarket turns 75

August 5, 2005: Seventy-five years ago, Michael J.Cullen, opened King Kullen the world’s first supermarket in Queens, New York. Operating under the slogan “Pile it high. Sell it low,” the new retail experience spanned a whopping (at the time) 6,000 square feet in what was formerly a garage. By the time of his death in 1936 Cullen had fifteen stores in his chain and the world had its first real glimpse of food shopping to come.

Supermarkets grew along with suburbia in the years following World War II. Now they are found in all areas of the country, often co-located with department stores in strip malls, and increasingly around the world. Once predominantly a U.S. experience supermarkets have begun infiltrating all regions of the world.

Undercutting Europe’s local grocery stores and drawing shoppers away from Central America’s open air markets, their presence is not always a welcome one. While proponents cite low prices and convenience, critics blame the supermarket for the disappearance of the corner market and increasing the dependency on automobiles.

In the United States supermarkets have suddenly found themselves in the same position as the local grocer they displaced so many years before facing a serious threat from the next big thing -- large national box-stores, such as, Wal-Mart and Costco. With even greater buying power and an often nonunion labor force these giant super centers can offer even lower prices on a whole spectrum of products from food to clothing all in the convenience of a single location.