Kroger grocery stores

The former Kroger at Fourth Street and North Grand Avenue was a remainders outlet in 2024. (SCHS)

On Dec. 13, 1928, two men, one carrying a revolver, entered the Kroger grocery at 11th Street and South Grand Avenue in Springfield.  They forced employees and a 15-year-old customer into a back room.  When the boy lagged behind, he was hit and knocked to the ground by one of the bandits.

After fleeing the store, the duo robbed another Kroger near 15th and Cook streets. Springfield police, caught the thieves – identified as Joe Milton and J.R. Evans of St. Louis’s “Cuckoo Gang” – after a car chase. They had netted $214 in the two stickups.

At the time of the robberies, Kroger may have been the fastest-growing grocery chain in Springfield. Kroger debuted in Springfield with a store at 2000 Peoria Road in September 1925. A second Kroger opened later that month at 1529 E. Cook St. When the robberies occurred in 1928, there were 12 Krogers in town and 5,000 stores across the Midwest.

Opening announcements described the new stores as a “chain type”. Krogers did not do deliveries, no charge accounts were permitted, and the stores reportedly had no phones —presumably because the locations did not take grocery orders.

The Kroger model mirrored what customers expected from an independent corner grocery in that era. Clerks assisted the customers by gathering their purchases and taking them to the check-out counter.  Self-service, shopping carts and checkout lines were nonexistent.

The Kroger concept was devised by Barney Kroger of Cincinnati.  He began selling tea and coffee, but in 1902, he reincorporated his business into the Kroger Grocery and Baking Company. The baking department sold loaves “at half the average going price,” Kroger advertised. Barney Kroger also pioneered the in-store butcher department.

In addition to building its own stores, the chain expanded by purchasing family-run groceries and placing them under the Kroger banner.  Springfield’s Peoria Road location had been an independent grocery prior to becoming a Kroger.  In 1927, Barney Kroger sold his stock in the company and retired as its president. He passed away in 1938, but the business continued to grow.

A crowd watches a fire in the 100 block of North Fifth Street in summer 1937. Across the street (left side of photo) is an early Kroger store. The building housed The Alamo bar in 2024. (Courtesy Bob Cavanagh)

Local Kroger stores opened and closed over the next few years. By 1933, Kroger’s had nine markets in Springfield, including the area headquarters at 715 E. Washington St.  All locations boasted “smoked meats,” and there was a butcher shop at the East Washington store.

Kroger started its corporate transition to modern supermarkets in the late 1930s by unveiling its “ready reach” stores.  Springfield got its first “ready reach” outlet in the summer of 1939 at 1632 West Grand Ave. South (now South MacArthur Boulevard.)

Store opening ad, 1939 (SJ-R)

The store was described in local newspapers as having a meat department and “rows and rows of canned goods, displays of fresh fruit and vegetables”.  Items were set “at an arms distance”, hence the ready-reach concept.

Kroger had plenty of competition. The 1936 Grocers Route List for Springfield reports the city had an incredible 300 grocery stores.  The majority were family-owned markets, but chains were becoming more important. Kroger had 10 stores in Springfield in 1936, but the biggest chain in town was Piggly Wiggly with 23 stores.

Eisner bought the local Piggly Wiggly stores after World War II, a period when chains were opening bigger stores and taking a bigger share of the market from mom-and-pop outlets.

Kroger consolidated its operations after the war, closing 1,000-some small stores between 1946 and 1955 in favor of larger markets.  Increased automobile use meant stores needed room for parking, and packaged foods (especially frozen food) began to supplant home-grown fruits and vegetables.

Promotion for the new North Grand Avenue West Kroger, 1961 (SJ-R)

Kroger opened a large store at 1606 S. MacArthur Blvd. in October 1949. It was the first time a local Kroger was branded a “supermarket”.  The location contained a self-service dairy, a frozen food section, and a beauty department.  Additional perks were “four fast check-out stands and fluorescent lighting”, proclaimed a grand opening announcement.  However, the parking lot accommodated only 80 cars, and the store was closed on Sundays.

Three more Kroger supermarkets opened in the city over the next decade: at 12th and South Grand in 1951, Fourth and North Grand in 1952, and Second and South Grand in 1957.

During the early 1960s, Kroger dropped most of its outside brands to focus on store-branded items. This move was another pioneering invention in the grocery business.  Their line of home brands was stylized by a blue oval with ‘Kroger’ spelled-out in a distinctive white-colored font.

In the ‘60s, the company closed more stand-alone stores in order to open two more supermarkets in Springfield.  One went into the new Capital City Shopping Center on Dirksen Parkway, and another was built at 200 North Grand Ave. W.  Management personnel drove replica 1902 Oldsmobiles around the city to announce the North Grand opening.

In 1972, Kroger opened another supermarket, the fifth in the city, at 1755 Wabash Ave.

Kroger at 200 North Grand Ave. W., 1960 (Sangamon County recorder)

Later in the ‘70s, the company renovated their older supermarkets, turning them into “Superstores”.   Kroger and K-Mart briefly joined forces in Springfield at K-Mart Plaza on Clear Lake Avenue, and Kroger debuted its line of Sav-On supermarkets and pharmacies.  Springfield’s first Sav-On (with a reported 35,000 items) was at 1501 S. Dirksen Parkway.

Kroger began its departure from the city in 1984, after 59 years in Springfield. The chain was down to just four stores (200 North Grand Ave. W.; 1216 S. Second St.; 1501 S. Dirksen Parkway, and 1755 Wabash Ave.) and two “SupeRx” pharmacies. Kroger’s exit was partially due to over-expansion and partially due to re-structuring its business model.

Wetterau Inc., a St. Louis-based food company) converted Springfield’s remaining Kroger stores into Shop ‘N Saves, a low-cost chain that ultimately closed its Springfield operations in 2018.  However, in a come-back (of sorts), a Kroger-owned Ruler Foods opened at 2711 E. Sangamon Ave. in 2013.

Although its local presence was not as strong as in the past, Kroger in 2019 was the largest U.S. supermarket in terms of revenue, and the second-largest general retail store in the nation, just behind Wal-Mart.

Chain grocery stores, 1936

According to the 1936 Grocers Route List for Springfield, there were 300 grocery stores in the capital city.  “Mom and pop” family-owned markets still dominated, but nationally based stores were gaining traction.

Chains active in Springfield were:

  • Piggly Wiggly, 23 stores
  • Clover Farm, 22
  • A&P, 16
  • URMA (United Retail Merchants of America), 16
  • Kroger, 10
  • Super-Service Food, 4
  • Royal Blue, 4
  • H. West Food, 4

Contributor: William Cellini Jr.

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society. Learn how to support the Society. 



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One Response to Kroger grocery stores

  1. Daniel Richards says:

    My mother Barb worked at Kroger for 30 years in Springfield Illinois,Til The Company announced closing and The Union abandoned the worker’s

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