Back in the day, general stores were the way to go. If you wanted to start a business or if you wanted to get your groceries for the day or week, you were most commonly to be found at a general store. These stores sold everything from wagon wheels to sugar and ammunition—if Oregon Trail is to be believed. In fact, the folks at the general store were also usually the ones who knew about how to find your way around town, which roads to take to your next destination, and how to order any specialty products. Is all this sounding familiar? That’s because modern grocery stores and supermarkets can do at least that much, if not more.
Modern grocery stores most commonly come in the supermarket vein. Supermarkets not only carry just about every grocery you could possibly want, they generally have all sorts of one stop services as well. You can get your prescriptions filled, buy new eyeglasses, get a haircut, have lunch, and take out a loan—all from your local supermarket and the businesses they invite to serve under their roof. But the funny thing about all of this is that the supermarket is a relatively new innovation. It wasn’t until the 1970s that they really started to catch on, though they began to grow in the 1950s and 1960s.
So what happened between the 1870s and the 1970s that supermarkets—general stores—became their smaller counterparts, early twentieth century grocery stores? One of the big changes wasn’t a change at all. It was simply what we noted in the first paragraph: general stores were a great way to set up shop as mom and pop. Grocery stores grew out of this sole proprietor model and even when they began to expand into large chains—take Smiths coupons, for example—they kept that small town feel.