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Mass retailing was a-changing in 1962

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“Where were you in ’62?”

That was the tagline for the 1973 movie American Graffiti, which offered a look back at a simpler time just 11 years before the film’s release date.

The movie, written and directed by George Lucas (who would direct the first Star Wars movie just five years later), introduced American audiences to actors like Harrison Ford and Richard Dreyfuss, and kicked off a nostalgia craze.

But retailers of a certain age know that 1962 was about much more than sock hops, cruising and Wolfman Jack.

Sam Walton opened his first Walmart store in 1962, deciding to bet on the discount store format that was shaking up the retail industry at the time. The dime store retailer S.S. Kresge, a much bigger operator with deeper pockets, also saw the format’s potential, and opened its first Kmart store. Ditto the Midwestern department store retailer Dayton’s, which tested the waters with the opening of the first Target store.

It’s not hyperbole to argue that those three store openings 60 years ago revolutionized the retail industry. Another revolution occurred in the late 1980s, when the big discount chains, and especially Walmart, added extensive grocery offerings, including perishables, to their stores, creating the first supercenters.

Meijer Thrifty Acres '62

Grand opening of Thrifty Acres in June 1962.

Except they weren’t really the first such stores, because Grand Rapids, Mich.-based grocery Meijer Inc. had already invented that format by working from the other direction, adding an extensive general merchandise assortment to a grocery store.

That groundbreaking store, operating under the banner Thrifty Acres, also opened in — you guessed it — 1962.

“The opening of Thrifty Acres in June 1962 was history in the making, although I’m not sure our dad and grandfather realized it at the time,” Meijer executive chairman Hank Meijer said recently. “They saw an opportunity to serve their customers better by offering a great variety of merchandise all under one roof.”

So the times really were “a-changing” for the retail industry in 1962. Just like they are today.


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