GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Meijer is a household name in West Michigan and in the wide world of retail marketing. Aside from being a popular brand in the Midwest, Meijer is known as a pioneer, becoming one of the first retailers to bring its groceries into a department store setting, launching the now-popular “supercenter” — a one-stop shopping experience.
Sunday marked 60 years since the Meijer family opened its first supercenter — Thrifty Acres at Kalamazoo and 28th Street in Grand Rapids.
According to a 1962 article in the Grand Rapids Press, plans for the supercenter first took root in 1958. It took four years of planning and construction to open the 100,000 square-foot store.
The store combined a Meijer supermarket with 25 other departments including auto supplies, small appliances and clothing sections. It also included a pharmacy, a dry cleaner, a barber shop and a bank.
Hendrik Meijer, who launched the supermarket chain in 1934 in Greenville, was 78 years old when Thrifty Acres first opened. He told the Grand Rapids Press that the “super general store,” as he called it, was the next logical step for the Meijer business.
“It is a logical combining of the self-service principle and an all-inclusive department store. The obvious advantages are less overhead and a subsequent lower price structure,” Hendrik Meijer said in 1962.
Meijer also took out ads spanning 18 pages in that June 4, 1962, issue of the Grand Rapids Press, highlighting the store’s wide variety — ranging from grocery dollar deals to a transistor radio for $3.44 and a 50-piece stainless silver tableware set for $10.88.
The Grand Rapids store was the first of three supercenters to open in West Michigan that year. Meijer also expanded his grocery stores in Holland and Muskegon into supercenters.
In hindsight, the supercenter is a major retail innovation, but Thrifty Acres didn’t get off to a smooth start. While Meijer stocked the grocery side, he originally outsourced the other departments. According to the Michigan Historical Society, the outside operators were inconsistent on pricing and keeping items in stock. Meijer eventually expanded even further and stocked those departments itself.
In a 2008 conversation with the Grand Rapids Press, Fred Meijer, who worked alongside his father for decades and led the business after Hendrik’s death in 1964, said the decision to launch a supercenter was made primarily out of fear.
“You can look back now and forget how much of a gamble we took because it worked out,” Fred Meijer told the Grand Rapids Press in 2008. “If each of those departments could make money as separate businesses, then someone could come into town, offering those services for a nice profit but also sell their groceries below cost to bring in customers. … We were in the grocery business. If all we had were groceries, then we were going to lose.”
Meijer didn’t lose. The company currently runs more than 240 stores across six states in the Midwest and employs approximately 70,000 people.