Lehman Brothers Collection - Contemporary Business Archives

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Lehman Brothers Collection

Twentieth-Century Business Archives

Fred Meyer, Inc. - Lehman Brothers Collection

Fred Meyer, Inc.

List of Deals

Frederick Grubmeyer, who eventually changed his name to Fred G. Meyer, founded the Java Coffee Company, a precursor to Fred Meyer, Inc., in 1922. The company, renamed the Mission Tea Company, prospered during its early years. As neighboring businesses failed, Fred Meyer bought their properties and soon was landlord and sometimes operator of several specialty food operations.

The center of commercial activity moved to uptown Portland, Oregon, in the early 1920s, and Meyer moved with it. In 1922 he consolidated his businesses into a single location that became the flagship store for the Fred Meyer chain. The store's departments included meat, delicatessen, coffee, lunch, homemade mayonnaise, grocery, and tobacco. The following year, Fred Meyer, Inc., was incorporated in Oregon, and a second store was opened that featured grocery and dairy products. The company continued to expand through the decade, and Meyer opened a packaged food store as well as the world's first self-service drugstore.

Fred Meyer, Inc., weathered the Depression years; in fact, it prospered. The company opened four new stores between 1929 and 1932: a toiletry store, a department store in the outlying Portland neighborhood of Hollywood, and two stores outside of Portland. Meyer soon began to realize the growing importance of cars in retailing. He found that his customers were often double-parked in front of his store and paid their tickets for them. He then opened an automobile lubrication and oil service in his Hollywood store and created an off-street parking lot.

Meyer began running aggressive promotions to showcase the company's low prices during the 1930s. He also added new products to his stores. In 1933 the stores began selling men's and women's clothing. The following years saw the advent of automotive departments, housewares, and other nonfood products. In the middle of the decade, the company opened a central bakery, a candy kitchen, an ice cream plant, and a photo-finishing plant. These facilities paved the way for house brands such as Vita Bee bread, Hocus Pocus desserts, and Fifth Avenue candies.

The stores were challenged during World War II, as employees were called to service, and while demand ran high, supplies were low. The company began to renovate and standardize its stores during the postwar years. It also added departments such as home improvement, nutrition centers, fine jewelry, and photo and audio.

Fred Meyer opened a stream of successful outlets in suburban Portland during the 1950s. In the middle of the decade, the company constructed its first modern distribution facility in Swan Island, Oregon. Also located at that location was a new dairy plant and a central kitchen for the company's in-house food operation, Eve's Buffet Restaurant. In 1959 the company made its first major acquisition, four Marketime drug stores in Seattle, Washington.

The company went public in 1960, when there were twenty Fred Meyer stores with combined annual sales of $56 million. The company then made a series of large acquisitions, such as its 1964 purchase of the Roundup Wholesale Grocery Company of Spokane, Washington. The next year Fred Meyer purchased seven Market Basket stores in Washington. In 1966 the company upgraded the look of its stores, replacing concrete floors with tiled aisles and carpeted apparel departments. The company's earnings had reached $1.56 million on sales of $170.8 million by the end of the year. Fred Meyer, Inc., continued to do well; however, in 1968 it sold the Market Basket stores. In 1969 the company introduced its Levi jeans centers, and in 1972 it opened three additional new stores.

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