Scanning Around With Gene: My Dad and the Super Market


I was recently looking through some old boxes of memorabilia from my dad and came across a bunch of company newsletters from when he worked for a chain of Southern California super markets called Market Basket. He was fairly typical of the post-war generation in that he went to work for the company in his 20s and stayed for over 25 years, working his way up from a checkout clerk to a vice president, holding many different jobs along the way. Thanks for indulging me today as I explore these newsletters and a little bit about my dad.

The company newsletters date from 1949 to 1963, and for many years my dad was a local reporter for one of the stores, contributing little news items about the employees and happenings at that particular store. At its peak, the chain had about 60 stores around Southern California and was a fixture in many neighborhoods, having first opened stores in the 1930s. Needless to say, that’s where we shopped when I was a kid. Click on any image for a larger version.

From the looks of things in the newsletter, my dad was a bit of a ham – he appeared in a number of pictures over the years for various reasons. Here he is shown (far right) with some other employees in a country-themed display they set up for Del Monte canned fruits and vegetables, posing as a cow poke. And below that are two pictures of my dad receiving gifts for various accomplishments – first a radio and then (second from the right) a coffee maker.

The thing I remember most about my dad being in the super market business was attending the various new store grand openings. Back in those days a new super market was a big deal for a neighborhood and so the openings were quite the celebration. Here is a shot of a ground-breaking for a new store and several ribbon-cutting ceremonies, complete with local mayors, county supervisors and other dignitaries.

But none of the official grand opening business was interesting to me – I was there for the rides and attractions that were usually set up. I specifically remember the Indian Chief and the balloon guy, who made animal figures and funny balloon hats for the “small fry” in attendance.

My dad, it turned out, also contributed cartoons and some artwork to the newsletter. Here’s a cartoon he did when he worked at store #17 in the drug department. I think you had to work in a market to get the humor.

Super markets were fairly new back then – most local markets were smaller and focused on specialty items like meat or produce. So a big new modern market was something to be proud of.

The newsletter is full of pictures of employees doing their job, from warehouse workers to clerks to deli workers. As you can imagine, they all look pretty happy and eager to serve customers. I actually don’t doubt that it was a good company to work for – my dad certainly liked it for most of his career.

Artwork and various other small features in the newsletter point to good behavior, proper work habits and even how to fight communism (and lots of anti-union propaganda).

Here’s a shot of checker Mrs. Bonnie Lee Haynes, who was named Queen of the Pacific Coast region in the 1963 International Checker of the Year competition. She went on to win second place overall in the finals, and won a trip to Hawaii.

In a special Christmas issue of the newsletter devoted to the children of employees, my sisters and I appeared in a spread in photos my dad took. That’s me in the middle, with my sisters Marguerite on the left and Kathleen on the right.

Eventually my dad moved up from the store level to the spacious and modern corporate offices, shown here when they opened in 1957.

Sadly, the Market Basket chain was purchased in 1963 by a larger super market company, Kroger, and many of the local executives ended up losing their jobs for one reason or another. My dad never fully recovered from that and floundered in his career as a result. But for the many years he worked there, I know he really enjoyed it and found it fulfilling. These days not many people spend 25 or more years working for the same company, but it was not unusual back then. I feel certain my dad would have gladly retired working in the super market business, but the reality of modern corporate takeovers and bottom-line practicality forced him to look elsewhere.

I’m glad I have these few reminders of my dad’s time at Market Basket and a little glimpse at his daily work life, which was mostly a mystery to me as a child.

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