Thursday, 21 October 2021 19:48

Some Norristown grocery stores

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This week, we accessioned an interesting item – a poster advertising a 25 cent sale at Almar Gocery stores. So, in addition to highlighting it, I thought we could look at a few items in our collection related to local grocery stores.  The poster is undated, but the reverse of the poster lists three locations of Almar markets in Norristown and one in Jeffersonville.

In the 19th century, grocery shopping looked very different than it does today. The stores were much smaller and there seems to be have been one on each corner. Here’s part of the list from the 1890 Norristown city directory:


Our earliest photograph of a grocery store (I think) is this one of Ephraim Bickel’s store, which first appears in the directory in 1880. At that time it was located at 400 W. Marshall St. In 1882, the store is listed at 419 W. Marshall St., the building you see here.


Around 1890, the listing for the store changes to being owned by Harry Bickel. Seeing the same building, ten years apart, lets us see how Norristown developed at the end of the 19th century. In the first photo, the lot next to the store is empty, but in the second, another building has filled it in. In both images, the street appears unpaved.


William Wismer’s store was at the corner of Willow and Elm. Looking at that spot on Google maps, you can see it’s the same building.



Willow and Elm

This store, Bean Brothers, first appears in the directory in 1910, which I suspect is when the photo was taken. Located on Main St., you can see it’s paved with bricks. There’s also a sewer clearly visible.


In stores like these, customers would have ordered groceries at a counter instead of pushing a cart through wide aisles. The modern sort of self-service grocery store was developed in 1916 in Memphis. It spread through the country and led to the modern supermarket we know today.

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