These seven postcards, discovered in an antique store in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, depict the Acme grocery store franchise in Akron as it grew from the early to late twentieth century. The postcards reveal significant changes in the architecture and built form of the United States and Ohio as well as dramatic changes taking place in the retail industry over the last hundred years. The first picture, taken in 1901, shows the second store in the grocery store chain. The franchise steadily added stores through 1911 and the stores looked and were sited similarly, generally on a main street in a neighborhood-oriented commercial district often times near what look to be residential dwellings and other types of compatible uses.
The cards now jump ahead 30 years to 1940, but during this time the franchise continued to expand; the 1940 store is the 83rd in the franchise. This picture illustrates some significant changes in the building’s architecture and orientation with the neighborhood. The store is now set back from the street to allow for parking and one can imagine the street where this store is located being more intensively commercial- and auto-oriented than the neighborhood-oriented commercial center of the early 1900s.
By 1972, the architectural style has changed again, but the overall orientation with parking in front of the store is still the same. Of note, however, is what the store is selling; it is no longer just a grocery, but instead is an Acme Y Mart, a chain of pharmacy and convenient stores.
The 1980 store is a supersized version of the 1972 store with an even larger footprint and increasing area dedicated to parking.
By 1990, the store’s footprint is larger still. Now it is a 220,000 square foot big box store with acres of surface parking in the front. The additional square footage reflects a major change in what is sold inside. The store is now an Acme Supercenter and the back of the postcard boasts, “With today’s busy schedule, the convenience of one-stop shopping is important to almost everyone. We do it best: from dry cleaning to carry-out chicken, hardware to home fashions, pastries to prescriptions!” With such a diversity of merchandise this super store draws customers from a decidedly larger region than the stores of eras past. The need for so much parking also reflects this.
The postcards stop in 1990, but we found this image is online of a current Acme store. Wikipedia says that the franchise has once again changed its business model and returned to a focus on groceries with the introduction of the Acme Fresh Market line of stores. Many of the super centers were closed and the older stores were sold to CVS pharmacy.
At Greater Ohio, there are several reasons that we find these postcards interesting. They visually document changes in the way we live and clearly show the increased influence of the automobile and its role in giving people the ability to travel from far distances, adjacent counties even, to shop and play. They also show the related change in the retail industry that evolved from a corner store into a large format “one stop shopping” concept with a wide assortment of products on offer. This contrast also illustrates why smaller neighborhood stores have struggled to compete with retail giants in recent decades. Of course, the postcards also depict the dramatic changes in architecture and the built environment that went hand-in-hand with these market changes and shaped the visual landscape of our cities and towns. Finally, this series of postcards underscores a more philosophical point that society is constantly changing around us and that we need to proactively acknowledge and embrace this change within our strategic plans and policies.