The grocery store business has changed a lot in Phoenix over the years.
J. B. Bayless markets started in1917 and grew to 18 stores before selling out in 1929. In 1930 A. J. Bayless, J.B.’s son, opened his own group of stores. was the first chain in Arizona arriving in 1928. In 1932 Bashas’ came along and Food City was opened in 1942.
By the 1950s S & H Green Stamps made their appearance and had catalogs and stores where they could be redeemed. They were a huge success and gave retailers plenty of extra business which easily covered the cost of the stamps. "Double stamp Wednesdays" were a big success and could give some stores as much as one third of their total business for a week.
Another innovation of the ‘50s was supermarkets staying open on Sunday. Also, frozen foods were more plentiful by that time and the appearance of the first convenience stores started forcing the "mom and pop" stores out of business. By the ‘60s Smitty’s and Fry’s came aboard with Smitty’s adding general merchandise to their product mix. I bought a bicycle there once.
By the 1970s Alpha Beta had entered the market and in the 80s Southwest Markets introduced their Hispanic oriented stores. During this time, Albertson’s and Smith’s also made their entrance into the area. With more housewives entering the workforce, convenience foods became more popular in grocery stores and the introduction of computers and UPC codes were of tremendous benefit too as they eliminated the need to price items on the shelves.
Today Wal-Mart dominates the grocery business in Phoenix followed by Fry’s and Safeway. Bayless and Food City were bought by Bashas’ in the 1980s and early 90s and IGA is not a factor in the market as the chains now dominate. Megafoods, Southwest Markets, Smitty’s, Smith’s, Fred Meyer, ABCO, Alpha Beta, Lucky’s, and The Fleming Company warehouse have either been sold to other groups or have gone out of business. New entries include Fresh and Easy who now operates 28 stores in the area soon to be joined by 17 more.
I worked as a sales rep for Procter and Gamble during 1993-94 and I learned quickly that the grocery trade in Phoenix is very volatile. I never thought accounts like Smitty’s and The Fleming Company would disappear but they have. Wal-Mart is a dominant force and we may see even more changes in the future as chains like Fry’s and Bashas’ are laying off workers. Stay tuned.
(top) A. J. Bayless (center, with trademark derby hat) operated 60 stores in Phoenix as late as 1984. (bottom) These stores operated into the 1990s in Phoenix but most are now a memory.