In 1956, many housewives in Arlington were enjoying their first Thanksgiving shopping experience in the “ultra-modern” Publix supermarket that had opened to great fanfare just six months earlier at 905 Massachusetts Ave., home today to an expanded Stop & Shop store.
With “extra wide aisles, cheerful coloring, ample check-out stations [eight of them], and no-tip page service [groceries were carried to shoppers’ automobiles for free],” Publix was proud to have opened a building it termed “the last word in construction and facilities.”
Publix, which had no relationship to the supermarket chain by the same name based in Florida, was founded by Maurice Krasner in 1932 as a single storefront grocery in Malden. In less than a decade, Krasner had created a self-service chain with additional locations in Somerville, Roslindale, and Waltham, grandly referred to as “the four great Publix markets.” In a comparatively giant leap of expansion, Krasner opened two freestanding modern supermarkets within two months in 1956, on Lexington Street in Waltham, and at the present Stop & Shop site in Arlington.
Sixty years ago, Arlington’s population was approaching 48,000 (about 5,000 more than in 2016) and was steadily increasing in the midst of the post-World War II “baby boom.” To suggest that the town was in need of a new supermarket such as Publix would be an understatement. Joseph P. Greeley, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, cut the ribbon at the grand opening on May 23, 1956, accompanied by the town manager and other municipal officials.
In addition to new-store giveaways such as a “Jade-ite” batter bowl with a $5.00 purchase, there were weekly prize drawings for items as extravagant as a 21-inch color console television, a room air conditioner, and an “automatic” electric clothes dryer.
Look Skyward for Balloons Bearing Gifts!
Publix released hundreds of helium balloons, with the objective of delighting residents who could discover one landing in the yard, its string attached to a certificate good for a free canned ham or a pound of bacon.
The Publix Market in Arlington was a hit with shoppers, not least as evidenced by the fact that within months of opening, it expanded its hours to 9:00 p.m. from four to six days a week (supermarkets advertised “daily” but it was understood that this did not include Sundays).
The success of Publix would soon be measured by its attractiveness for acquisition by a much larger Greater Boston rival, Stop & Shop. Another local competitor, Star Market, had the same number of locations as Publix, but its owners, the Mugar family, envisioned a path of continued growth by building their own modern supermarkets. Indeed, Star Market was planning to construct an Arlington store off Route 2, on land that has remained vacant through six decades of Mugar ownership, and which today is the object of a controversial housing development plan.
Thus, in 1958, the six Publix markets were purchased by Stop & Shop, nudging it closer to the opening of its 100th store by the following year. An artifact of the brief, but colorful Publix supermarket era in Arlington could be found in the small designation “Publix Division” posted beneath the freestanding Stop & Shop sign, which was visible well into the 1990s.
To bring us back to the Thanksgiving of 1956, Publix pulled out the stops in both pricing and advertising: “golden yellow” sweet potatoes for six cents a pound, McIntosh apples for 13 cents a pound, a bunch of Pascal celery for 23 cents, and turkeys “in the blossom of youth” for 45 cents a pound. All that, and Prudential Blue Ribbon trading stamps, too!
11 thoughts on “60 years ago: “Stop & Shop” building opens”
Thank you for writing this piece on Publix. It was nice to read a little bit of the story about one of my great grandfather’s stores.
For most of my high school years I worked part time for Sam Barbagallo and Sam Coronella, owners of the Lakeland Market (cor. Lockeland and Mass Aves). When Publix opened, it affected business at Lockeland Market and I remember how Big Sam would look across the street, puff on his cigar, and tell anyone who would listen that in six months “that will be a garage.” It never was of course but the Sams, who were brothers-in-law, managed to prosper for several more years at their location by emphasizing their meat and produce departments. Theirs was really a neighborhood institution and I can recall in the 40s when it was the Lockeland Spa and had a breakfast and lunch counter in the Easternmost section of the building.
WOW! I just found this post. Sam Corenella was my grandfather And Sam B. was my grand uncle. Thank you for posting – it is nice to see that the market is not completely forgotten.
Thank you all for your input and additional information.
I’ve been to that Stop & Shop in Arlington when visiting my friend Lisa who lived in Arlington in the 1990s. I remember the “Publix Division” sign, which intrigued us as we both grew up in Orlando, FL, with the Florida-based Publix.
What’s interesting is that the Massachusetts Publix’s features – wide aisles, multiple modern checkouts, sparkling stores – were also key features that distinguished the Florida Publix from its competitors like Winn-Dixie and the A&P. The only thing missing from the Massachusetts Publix were the distinctive facades, originally an art-deco design from the 1930s through the 1950s (https://blog.publix.com/publix/back-in-time-publix-in-the-1950s/) and then a mid-century modern “wing” design in the 1960s and 1970s (https://blog.publix.com/publix/step-back-in-time-publix-in-the-1960s/), now replaced by a more conventional “big box” design (though the “wings” live on at the Publix in the College Park section of Orlando where my mother still shops.)
I’m not sure how the Massachusetts Publix got its name, but in the early 20th century Publix was the name of a national movie theater chain. The historic 1926 Tampa Theatre was a part of that chain. Supposedly a young man from Lakeland named George Jenkins made the 30 mile trip to the “big city” to catch a first-run movie and when he was looking for a name for his new grocery store he remembered the movie theatre and, with hopes for expansion, named his store “Publix”.
While the Massachusetts Publix may only be a memory, the Florida chain is steadily expanding northward (currently on the outskirts of Washington, DC) and, who knows, in a few years New Englanders may once again be shopping at Publix!
I was a junior at Boston College when I began working at the Publix Market. After graduation in 1959, I moved to California to teach and only returned to the area to visit family. I always wondered how a Florida based store opened one so far north. Today I learned there was no affiliation. I’m so happy I stumbled on this website. It’s triggered a lot of fun memories. Thank you.
Maurice was also my great-grandfather. He arrived in the US from Russia at age 17 in 1914. He started with a fruit cart and spoke no English. I’ve asked many family members where the name Publix came from, and no one seems to know. Wish I could provide more context, but I do have a number of Massachusetts newspapers from the 1940s filled with ads for Publix.
That is really interesting, Mike! Thanks for commenting.
Glad it was of interest to you!
Just found this! He was my uncle! Married my father, Jacob Krasner’s sister, my Aunt Esther! Remember them both, their children Harriet and Bernard well, and loved visiting their beach home in Nantasket, as well as Brookline. Great memories ,
Frima, I’m Bernie’s first grandchild. The Nantasket home is still in the family! I have a family picture from 1920 of Jacob and his siblings (including my great grandma Esther).