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Remember the Milkman and the Corner Butcher? It’s Been 75 Years Since Giant Food Spurred a Grocery Revolution

The grocery store chain helped change shopping in the Baltimore-Washington region.

The story goes that the man who was part of the duo who opened one of the first supermarkets in the Baltimore-Washington region was such a perfectionist that he would worriedly pace the aisles of his stores even as he was revolutionizing the way people purchased food.

If Nehemiah Myer Cohen saw a piece of bad fruit or celery, he would make sure it was thrown out, according to a 1986 publication from the chain on the company’s history.

Cohen and Samuel Lehrman opened the first Giant supermarket in the Baltimore-Washington area on Feb. 6, 1936, and it grew into the locally well-known grocery chain.

Giant is celebrating 75 years as a company this year.

“It is a big deal,” said Giant spokesman Jamie Miller. “You know, a lot of the things we stood for when Giant opened up in 1936 – quality, service and value – those were the foundations that Giant was built upon and continue to be our guiding principles. Giant’s been an instrumental part of the community for the 75 years.”

Within a year of its Depression-era opening, the supermarket was able to lower its prices by 35 percent because it was selling more items, Miller said.

At first, the concept of a large supermarket felt disorderly to shoppers, said Tracey Deutsch, an associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota who studies food shopping and the emergence of supermarkets.

Instead of going to a neighborhood butcher, apothecary or grocer, residents were expected to walk into one sprawling store called a supermarket and find all their week’s groceries.

“They felt ungainly to people and stood out in the retail landscape,” Deutsch said.

The first businesses to ask consumers to completely change the way they shopped were trying something that would turn out to be revolutionary.

“It was transformative,” Deutsch said. “The way we live is designed around this model now…. We have this understanding that that is how shopping will work. We organized communities around that.”

The company will be organizing monthly celebrations and promotions commemorating the store’s history and contributions to the community.

This month, Giant hosted cake cutting ceremonies at all of its locations.

The chain now operates 178 stores, 100 of which are in Maryland, and employs more than 22,000 associates in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C.

Eileen Walker February 28, 2011 at 05:46 PM
I was also born on February 6, 1936 and when I visited my Giant store in Dorsey's Search in Columbia, MD a few days after my birthday this year, I casually mentioned to one of the people at the service desk that I shared Giant's 75th birthday. She was so impressed that she gave me a coupon for a free rotisserie chicken! That's just one example of Giant's great customer service. Eileen Walker, Columbia, MD
Lisa Rossi February 28, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Wow, that's amazing, Eileen! Thanks for sharing! And enjoy your chicken!
Robert Barber March 24, 2012 at 07:56 PM
I watched the Giant near me being built. Since then the local Giant has changed quite a bit. Now though, the Giant near me has gone downhill. The isles have signs that are not accurate. It is difficult to find things. Merchandise is on the shelves that is long past the sell by date. This is store 352. Please do something soon, either make it right or close it.

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