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!