The anatomy of a small grocery store
Broad-Elm market was owned by my father at 11767 Broadstreet in Detroit, Michigan. He purchased the store from his brother in 1967, the year of the riots in Detroit, and fortunately, was not burned down or raided. Unfortunately he was killed in his store on November 29, 1973. Now, what I noticed about our store when I use to work in it with my father, I was six when he purchased it, was the economy that it generated around it.
- Hire a local kid around the store. This was pinnacle. Because we weren’t from the area, we had to establish a connection to the neighborhood. We hired two local kids at different times and also several cashiers at different times.
- Provide services to the elderly. I use to deliver groceries to senior citizens in the community.
- Form friendships with customers. Many customers became friends with my mother who spoke to them on what we could improve in the store.
- Our whole family worked in the store. This showed the neighborhood we were committed to serving their needs, especially during the riots. We extended our hours, provided safe haven when people felt threatened on the street.
- The meat counter was the center of the business. We provided all kinds of meats, from traditional cuts of salami, bologna, ham, hamburger, pig feet, sausage, liver, salt pork, pork chops, ribs etc. He always kept a fresh display of meats in the counter.
- Candy. My father knew kids would load up for candy in the morning and got there early enough to provide them what they wanted. I was happy with that as well.
- Can goods. We provided all the traditional can good, cereals, rice, dried good, oats, spices, etc. Campbell’s soup was a huge seller.
- Bread. Another center point of the store. We had two local suppliers of bread, Wonder bread had a local factory as well as another unnamed bread company that I cannot remember. They would visit our store every week and replenish the shelf with bread and remove any un-purchased bread that was past the due date. Sold crackers, saltines, boxed cookies.
- Fruit and vegetables. We purchased greens, lettuce, tomatoes, peaches, apples, oranges, grape fruit, watermelons, onions, and spinach from Eastern Market. We went there every morning.
- Milk. We sold Borden’s milk, Sometimes Wilson’s milk, and HD milk, which was the only black milk distributor in Detroit.
- Soda. We sold Faygo pop, which was made locally. We also sold Vernor’s ginger ale which was made locally as well. We also sold the national brands, Coke, Pepsi, Spirit, 7up, orange crush, Mountain dew, everything, and in all sizes.
- Sold eggs, butter, frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, etc.
- Sold local made Wesley’s ice cream, also local. Sold popups, frozen ice pops, sherbets, etc…
- We had the best selection of cigarettes in the area, as well as cigars and chewing tobacco. I loved the smell of chewing tobacco.
- We sold Better Made potato chips, which were made locally on the east side of Detroit. We also sold Lays potato chips, and pork rinds.
- Hostess provided their product line.
- We sold pampers and huggies diapers. We sold a whole of baby food, I had to replenish the shelf daily with those small and medium size jars.
- Gave out free apples and candy at Halloween.
- Extended the hours during the riots, everything else was burned down or looted, had to provide his customers with something during the crisis.
- We sold brooms, mops, paper towels, toilet tissue, clean solutions, bug spray, dog food, and pickled pig feet.
- We used the gas station across the street from the store to purchase tires for our truck, tune-ups, brakes, and oil changes.
- During the riots, open 7 days a week. Regular days were open 6 day, with Tuesday being stock day.
- My mother used the hair dresser next to our store because she shopped at our store… circulations of dollars in the community.
- He ended up purchasing the block of buildings on the corner. The barber shop moved out because he didn’t like the fact that a black man owned the building. The barber was black. The previous owner was Jewish.
- We constantly kept the shelves full. I stocked at least twice a day if necessary.
- Provided a money order service.
- My father worked everyday, sun, rain, snow, sleet, wind. Only took one week off for vacation during the year.
My father ran a grocery store, not some corner store selling beer, wine, and liquor. He only began to sell beer and wine because he began to lose his customer base to the larger grocery stores as the neighborhood became more mobile. He didn’t like that, he knew it would bring in a different kind of customer as well as contribute to alcoholism in the community.
He used local suppliers. Dollars circulated in the community more than once, through the store. The local nursing home workers came by to get snakes during their break. There was a centralized cleaning factory on the next block which workers would come by and get their food. The dollar circulation kept the neighborhood and businesses thriving.
Those small corner stores provided an economy that does not exist in neighborhoods now. Perhaps they have past their era, but, all that from a little Grocery store, on Broadstreet and Elmhurst. Broad-Elm Market…