1939: A Neighborhood and Its Grocery Stores

Ever wish the walk to your neighborhood grocery store was just a little more convenient? Here’s a map of groceries and corner stores in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood back in 1939.

Created by Paul Strebe and shared via Old Minneapolis on Facebook. Click the map to explore in Google Maps.

Click to explore in Google Maps

Click to explore in Google Maps

18 thoughts on “1939: A Neighborhood and Its Grocery Stores

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Allow me to restate my motto: everyone should live within easy walking distance of a grocery store, a pharmacy, a liquor store (which really should be the same as the grocery) and at least one place to eat.

    1. Eric SaathoffEric S

      Adding in the pharmacy is interesting, since today we mostly have CVS, Walgreens, and other pharmacies within a store (Target, Walmart, Cub, etc.).

      I’m just still wondering how these same services have been replaced, and how different the map of those services is. I’d like to compare this 1930’s map to a map of current groceries, convenience stores, gas stations, and pharmacies.

      Does it count, Adam, if you get the grocery, pharmacy, and (low alcohol) liquor all at Cub?

  2. Eric SaathoffEric S

    What defines a grocery? We’ve got a few little convenience stores with a handful of produce items that call themselves groceries, but mainly carry junk food and ethnic specialties (Hmong, African, Mexican, etc.).

    I bring this up because I wonder what the contemporary map of grocery stores looks like as well as the contemporary map of convenience stores (including gas stations).

    Still, the main point is really a good one. Many of the little groceries that used to exist around my St. Paul neighborhood have been converted into apartments. You can clearly see where the front door used to be as well as the large windows that have been shrunk down.

    Some of the small grocery stores that do still exist don’t offer either the low prices of a mega-grocery or the smart choices of a co-op or Whole Foods / Trader Joe’s. They offer convenience, charm, and a truly local connection.

    I shopped by bicycle at Cub tonight using my Burley kid trailer. But you don’t see people walking or biking with a family’s worth of groceries very often. I’m guessing these 1930’s families were shopping nearly every day and the load was not quite so heavy…

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Some how we got the idea that grocery shopping was a once a week activity. If the stores just down the block, it’s no big deal to go multiple times per week, and it’s a lot easier to eat fresh, real food.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        Yep. We have a grocery store about three blocks away, and we go a couple times a week to get a few things. It’s a nice addition to our evening walk, and it doesn’t even feel like a chore. We’re in there for 5 minutes getting a few things for the next few days.

        But my interesting takeaway from this is more about commercial space than about specific grocery habits. We were originally much more amenable to storefronts in residential neighborhoods, even on quiet corners and a few midblock spots. It was much more integrated into the neighborhood. Granted, the car changed the economics of storefront locations. But having a use-based zoning code didn’t help either.

      2. brad

        I expect with more people owning cars and refrigerators postwar, shopping less frequently became much more doable.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          That and a significant shift toward process foods, I’d think.

          But undoing that makes a huge difference for me, personally. It makes grocery shopping much more pleasant, as I don’t have to have planned the entire week’s menu and I don’t have to fight weekend afternoon crowds at the Save For More off the interstate. Having to walk home with it also creates a nice disincentive for buying packaged drinks and other unhealthy heavy items. And I can cook and eat what looks good or is fresh instead of what I locked into four days ago.

          1. brad

            Yes, forgot to mention processed foods!

            Also, there were a lot fewer two-income (or single-parent) households than today. In those cases, time becomes more important. For example, if you’re getting home at 5, and kids expect to eat at 6, and someone has to be at a meeting or activity at 7. Or, you’re working two jobs, and have to pick up kids from daycare in between. In the US, a lot of people deal with this time crunch through fast food or packaged dinners, but if you want to eat healthfully and not break the bank, you really need to plan ahead.

            One other thing, I hear you unnecessarily conflating shopping infrequently with shopping unhealthily. I often make one big trip to a co-op for the week’s provisions, sometimes in the evening to avoid the weekend crowds. Gotta say that bulk goods, fruit and organic milk (especially in glass bottles!) isn’t much easier to transport than frozen pizzas, candy and mountain dew. That’s why I’m excited for the further expansion of co-ops in Mpls next year!

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

              I’m pretty confident that shopping unhealthy correlates pretty strongly with shopping infrequently, even though there are certainly outliers.

  3. Morgan Zehner

    Produce requires a large investment in equipment, and increased operating costs, that most neighborhood grocery stores simply cannot make. In fact even large grocery stores don’t even make the investment, the produce at Cub, Rainbow, et. al. sucks. Trader Joe’s barely has produce.

      1. Morgan Zehner

        The refrigerator, automatic water sprayers, and of course the people that need to stock it constantly. Produce is much more labor intensive to sell than packaged or frozen goods. You know why Trader Joe’s wraps their tomatoes, right? They are cheap. Just go to the coop and observe all of the employees that work in the produce section.

        The spoilage is good for produce sellers because it is really the only food good that you need to “run out and get” during the middle of the week. That frequency creates less variation in demand for sellers to build a business around.

  4. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

    Love this Matt. I can walk to LRT, the Northbound, A Baker’s Wife, etc., but not a grocery store. My next move will be within walking distance (1/4 mile) of one (that I will actually shop at AND is a relatively pleasant walk), leaving me with few choices in Minneapolis. I realize this is the sort of snobbery that gives urbanists a bad name, but it is a free country.

    1. brad

      From what you describe, sounds like you’re within a mile of Everett’s, one of the few local independent groceries that has survived–hope you support them!

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      We’ve started to explore some neighborhoods in the early stages of maybe considering a move, and proximity to a grocery is a major factor. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the options (as long as you’re okay with a pricey grocery store).

      The area near the Wedge Coop is kind of my dream area, as I’d still be able to walk to work if I wanted, although price and available housing stock make it unlikely.

      But there are potentially appealing areas near Oxendales in Keewaydin (also walkable to LRT) and near the Kowalski’s stores on Chicago and Lyndale. And now I’ve reminded myself to consider the area around Longfellow Market.

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