When we go shopping for our groceries today, most of us get in the car and go to the supermarket or the big warehouse chain, usually along a highway full of other retail outlets, fast-food joints, and chain restaurants. And we usually try to go grocery shopping no more than once a week, stocking our refrigerators and freezers with processed and frozen foods, and filling our cupboards with canned goods, boxed cereal, and dry food mixes, such as instant mashed potatoes and cake mixes. But shopping was quite different just a few generations ago – often a daily chore, women (almost always women) would walk to their neighborhood grocer and buy fresh food for the day’s meal. And they would choose from whatever was in season or otherwise available. There was no such thing as a supermarket then. (The first supermarket, as we know it today, opened around 1930 in Queens, New York.)
As with any American city of its size, Sandusky had many neighborhood grocery stores – which helps to explain the origin of the term, “corner store.” Going back 125 years, the Sandusky City Directory for 1889-89 listed 73 retail (and two wholesale) grocers in the city. And they were all around the city, on Adams Street, Tiffin Avenue, Camp Street, Clinton Street, and Huron Avenue, just to name a few locations. The Wichman and Sons grocery was listed in that directory as operating at 1236 Washington Street (at Shelby Street); the Wichman store was in business for nearly a hundred years, closing in 1987. Many other neighborhood groceries in Sandusky maintained their customer loyalty for many years, often well into the twentieth century. In fact, although by 1961, the Kroger Company had been in Sandusky for several years, with a supermarket in the Sandusky Plaza, there were still more than fifty neighborhood groceries in town – just a little more than fifty years ago. Certainly, many of today’s readers shopped or worked in those stores. The owner of each business might have lived in the same neighborhood as his (or her – there were some female proprietors, often the spouse or daughter of a co-owner) customers.
Although today’s supermarkets and warehouse stores offer great advantages not available to past generations, such as selection, quantity, and the availability of goods imported from other regions, some might miss the old days of personal service and knowing who you were doing business with. Sometimes progress involves sacrificing some qualities for other benefits.