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Grocery Stores That Make Us Shamelessly Nostalgic

Once upon a time, a grocery store could be owned by just one or two people (usually people named "mom and pop"), and could survive without being a billion-dollar conglomerate.
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While today's supermarket landscape is generally dominated by chains like Albertsons, Walmart, and Kroger, it wasn't always this way. Once upon a time, a grocery store could be owned by just one or two people (usually people named "mom and pop"), and could survive without being a billion-dollar conglomerate.

In the interest of forcing some poor teenager to clean up our tears on aisle six, we tasked our writers to wax nostalgic about the great regional grocery chains of yore. Some have since gone to the big can return in the sky. But most some still exist as they always have, as if suspended in the discount jell-o mold of time. Read on our shameless nostalgia, and share yours in the comments aisle.

1 location in San Francisco, CA
"Take one look at Cal-Mart on California Street's old-school, since-1952 signage and you know those walls have stories. For many years, I lived six blocks away, and as part of my weekly ritual would walk there and get everything I ever needed, plus at least four things I didn't. Aside from the daily necessities a grocery store needs to have, Cal-Mart had other secret shops inside, which actually aren't even affiliated with the store, but just live in the space. Antonelli's butcher shop, for instance, is fantastic and right inside their doors. As is a Sweet Things bakery.

"Their own deli is formidable enough (get the sliced buffalo-chicken with everything on a Dutch crunch roll), but what really makes them good is the insane cultural mishmash of foods they're constantly introducing (especially Asian goods), on top of the best produce outside of the farmer's markets in the city. On special occasions, my mother-in-law still drives out from Marin to get her groceries and roasted chickens from Cal-Mart, something she's been doing for 40 years. And I've started doing the same thing." -- Kevin Alexander, national writer at large

Stop & Shop
400+ stores in MA, CT, RI, NY, NJ
"So, I grew up in two distinctly different parts of New England -- Northern Connecticut and Western Mass. Both places were pretty different, as far as the kinds of people who lived there: Connecticut is home to stuffy upper-crust folks while western Massachusetts is a bit more laid back and fun. Both towns, however, have a Stop & Shop. It's the place where anybody and everybody shops, regardless of their background. For a long time, I didn't know Stop & Shop was regional, because I assumed everybody in the country went there. They just have everything you could ever want. Huge bakery, sparkling-clean deli, books, cheese, cereal, fruits, vegetables, and alcohol (except on Sunday in CT). I remember always seeing someone I knew in the aisles, and every one of my friends took a turn working there. In fact, some of the kids from my high school still work there... which is fine." -- Jeremy Glass, staff writer

Bankrupt; previously operated in NY, NJ, CT, PA, DE, MD
"No Frills is such a strange name for a supermarket's generic brand. It's admitting up front that it's going to suck -- it's saying, 'This is going to be the worst version of the brands you so desperately covet but can't afford!' Growing up in Delaware, a Pathmark was close by to my house, and it's where my family bought most of our basic household supplies. It was one of the few supermarket games in town.

"When you're a kid, even a trip to the supermarket seems like a huge deal, and Pathmark was aisle after aisle of magical food I couldn't eat because my family ate super healthy. Occasionally some sugary cereal would make its way into the house, and it always came from Pathmark.

"But back to the No Frills business at hand; I remember constantly having a cold growing up, and having to use the No Frills tissues was torture. It was like blowing your nose into sandpaper that broke apart the instant you put it up to your face. Still not sure how that's even possible. I remember my nose looking constantly inflamed in middle school thanks to all the No Frills action, which probably didn't help my popularity. No Frills also made cereal. I never ate it, but I imagine it's like eating sandpaper." -- Lee Breslouer, senior writer

Credit: King Kullen

King Kullen
30+ stores in Long Island, NY
"King Kullen markets itself as 'America's first supermarket,' and while I can't speak to the veracity of that claim, I can definitely say it was my first supermarket. I have fond memories of visiting the Northern Boulevard location near my parents' house in Queens, gazing with wide-eyed wonder at the live lobsters in the seafood section while my brother jammed coffee beans up his nose in an attempt to smell them better. These were simpler times, before the King Kullen turned into a Pathmark, which eventually morphed into a ShopRite, and ultimately became a Food Bazaar. It's not as regal as it once was, but the seafood section's still totally entertaining." -- Gianni Jaccoma, editor

15+ stores in OH, IL
"When I was growing up, my parents made me go to church. Usually, I goofed around during Sunday school, and when I got old enough, I dozed off during the sermon.

"But as part of the Sunday tradition, my dad would drive us to the grocery store afterward to shop a bit and buy lunch. Typically, we went to Finest, a now-defunct grocery chain. But on occasion, we'd stop at Heinen's, which was about 5 minutes further from my house, but closer to our church. Heinen's always seemed more expensive -- but also somehow classier. Going there felt like a treat.

"My brother was really into eating salads, so we'd go hog-wild on the salad bar and fill up one of those flimsy plastic triptych containers each. Whatever ended up in the two smaller sections had to be good -- like artichoke hearts, or something we didn't keep in the fridge at home. That's kinda Heinen's in a nutshell -- the artichoke heart of saladstuffs, in terms of grocery stores. Heinen's was smaller than other supermarkets, but it felt like the selection was somehow more carefully selected." -- Ryan Craggs, editor

Credit: H-E-B

350+ stores in TX
"HEB is a Texas institution, but visitors to the Lone Star state just don't understand. 'Heeeeebbbbb,' they say, as if referencing the '60s soul singer behind the hit 'Sunny.' I do understand H-E-B, because I spent several years bagging the groceries of humble Texans and walking their cart out to their car, refusing tips like an upstanding 16 year old and occasionally napping in my car like a not-at-all upstanding 17 year old. But I digress.

"What makes HEB special is not only the savings or the jovial workers, but the little touches like HEBuddy, the anthropomorphized shopping bag whose HEBuddy Bucks give kids the opportunity to win 'cool prizes,' or the former cash-cow Homies vending machines near the entrance now gathering dust, or the 25-cent knock-off sodas, or the television commercials that incorporate ambient grocery store sounds into an experimental jingle that would make Matmos proud. Mention these three initials to any expat Texan and brace yourself for a gushing endorsement." -- Dan Gentile, writer

Bought by Safeway; previously operated in PA, NJ, DE
"If you lived in greater Philadelphia around the turn of the millennium, you shopped at Genuardi's and likely crossed paths with a Genuardi once or twice, too. The chain put family in 'family market,' as only an Italian dynasty could. That is, until Safeway gobbled it up into nonexistence. Once a hangout for latchkey children looking for a salad bar bite, Genuardi's is no longer to be found -- the last location closed its doors in May 2015." -- Matt Patches, editor

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