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Posted: 03 Aug 2006 16:45
by p_reuben
I remember when I was younger in elementary school I went on a field trip to a grocery store. I'm almost sure it was a Farm Fresh in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. What information does anyone have on the history of Farm Fresh in North Carolina in the early to mid 1980s.


Posted: 03 Aug 2006 19:58
by Dave
p_reuben wrote:I remember when I was younger in elementary school I went on a field trip to a grocery store. I'm almost sure it was a Farm Fresh in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. What information does anyone have on the history of Farm Fresh in North Carolina in the early to mid 1980s.
Farm Fresh is a very confusing chain to develope an accurate history on because they tried so many formats and went in and out of markets like Richmond and North Carolina.

I do know that they went from 12 to 18 stores from 1974 to 1983, and then added 22 more stores in the next three years. They had one or two Richmond stores from the early 1960's, but were concentrated in Hampton Roads. Farm Fresh went public in 1983.

They merged with another Hampton Roads chain, Giant Open Air Markets, in 1986, adding 25 more stores for a total of 65. in 1988, they underwent a leveraged buyout.

The leveraged buyout era lasted until 1998, when they were acquired by Richfood, which was acquired by Supervalu in 1999. All during the 1988 through 1998 period they acquired chains (Earles in Hampton Roads, Safeway's Richmond division in December, 1993, and others), experimented with various formats (Farm Fresh, The Grocery Store, Food Carnival, Rack and Sack, Nick's Market, etc.) - and divested stores (most of the Richmond stores were sold to Hannaford in September, 1995, 21 months after they were bought from Safeway).

That's not specific to North Carolina, but it may give you and idea of what Farm Fresh was doing during the time period you ask about. The last I heard, Farm Fresh was neck-and-neck with Food Lion as the Hampton Roads market leader and has renovated and upgraded their stores a lot. They sure did and tried most anything back in in the 80's and 90's but have calmed down considerable.


Posted: 06 Nov 2008 22:27
by carolinatraveler
Farm Fresh dates back to 1957 and began with single a location in Norfolk, I believe on Military Highway near Little Creek Rd. It was an expansion of a wholesale operation that dated to before 1920. It was strictly a Tidewater area operation thruough the 1960s, and a single store opened in Richmond about 1970. It was also about this thime that they began experimenting with a warehouse format called "Consumer Warehouse". During the late 1970s they began to solidify their Farm Fresh image into a more upscale store, and the company opened their first superstore in 1976 in Virginia Beach. More stores were built in Tidewater, Richmond, and northeast North Carolina, an area with traditional business ties to Norfolk. Farm Fresh stores could be found in Rocky Mount and Durham, and possibly Raleigh. In 1986 Farm Fresh merged with Norfolk neighbor Giant Open Air, operators of the famous "arch entrance" superstores. Giant was founded in Norfolk in 1939, and had expanded in the 1970s with the purchase of Newport News based Rich's Supermarkets (operator of some of the first combination supermarket/general merchandise stores in the country) and Gloucester, VA based Lou Smith Supermarkets. Through Rich's, Giant was operating in numerous northeast NC towns, and some stores were converted to the Farm Fresh brand in the late 1980s. I left Hampton in 1987 and the history drops off some from there, but today Farm Fresh is the sole survivor of Tidewater's fierce local supermarket operations.


Posted: 08 Nov 2008 03:27
by ajsanjua
Farm Fresh operated a store in Elizabeth City, NC from at least sometime in the eighties until 1993. They returned in 2004 with a 'new' store carved out of the former Kmart on Hughes Boulevard, later adding an attached gas station the next year. As far as I know the two stores were the only ones in NC under the Farm Fresh banner.

I believe that in the early 2000s they were planning to place a store in Edenton to take advantage of a short-lived housing boom there, but haven't heard anything new about their plans, which must have been dropped or put on hold.



Posted: 13 Nov 2008 09:03
by ajsanjua
Can any one tell me what a Rich's or Giant store looked like? I seem to remember the original Farm Fresh here as a grayish building with an enormous round-cornered rectangular facade holding the Farm Fresh logo. The most interesting part were the (hundred or so?) chasing lamps around the facade. I think the store in Smithfield still had an identical exterior a decade or so ago.

Was the described exterior particular to Rich's or Giant or to Farm Fresh itself?


Posted: 13 Nov 2008 20:58
by carolinatraveler
Rich's tended towards "futuristic" designs. Their 1939 first supermarket site was boxy, but had exagerated neon lettering. Early postwar designs were the most conventional, but featured rooftop and facade neon extensively. About 1960 Rich's went into the drive-in restaurant business and built a location (still standing) on West Mercury Blvd in Hampton, VA with tall support masts holding cables that seemed to elevate a canopy that extended from the main building. Carhop service was available under the canopy before the place went self service. It was the only such example built, but Rich's supermarkets after that time had a facade that copied the upswept look of the drive-in canopy, with large square blocks with lettering "Rich's" across the front. Several of these buildings can still be found in Newport News and the Middle Peninsula area of VA.
Giant was another matter. Their first location was tall and boxy, but was retrofitted after WW2 with a large sweeping arch, about 60' high at center. Later locations were even larger, and a mezzanine area across the front featured a full service restaurant up above the level of the store entrance. Variations of this design, one of the most extreme supermarket designs ever, were used for all new construction up until the Farm Fresh merger. I have a photo somewhere and will see if I can post it over the weekend
Farm Fresh units were usually reused sites and until the 1970s did not seem to have standard signage, but in the 1970s they adopted to blunt rectangle logo that you mentioned, with their logo farmer boy in the center and chase lights around the edge. It seems that in Smithfield Farm Fresh moved into a former Big Star on the east side of Route 10 sometime in the 1980s, and then moved across the street to a much larger facility within a few years, where I belive it is still located. They first came to Smithfield when the Rich's location rebranded Giant and then Giant rebranded Farm Fresh. I don't remember the old Rich's ever being a Farm Fresh, and the move into the Big Star building would correspond with the name change 1986-87.

Wayne Henderson


Posted: 14 Nov 2008 12:51
by ajsanjua
Thanks! I'd love to see that photo. The large rectangular facade on the EC store
was replaced around 1993 or so with a beige type stucco that is still on the building
today, an odd move considering their impending departure shortly which,
(and correction), may have been in 1995 or 6.

Pictures when it was used as Winn-Dixie, who kept the exterior completely intact
over the years, as well as the interior architecture, structural of course, not the
wallpapering and logos...

*Outside facade (post ~1993 to present)
With a little imagination, supplant the Winn-Dixie sign for a much-smaller Farm Fresh 'rainbow'.

*Outside facade for scale
(Sorry, nighttime blurriness)

You'll notice that the building consists of five sections on each side of the entrance.
One of the sections on the left side in integrated into the main facade, but not part
of the interior.

The store seems larger than your usual supermarket, esp. for an '80s era Farm Fresh
(at 65,000 sq ft.) And you'll see why...

*Better picture for scale/ right side of building only
You might can tell that the building was NOT built originally as a supermarket.
Records in the local city directories had placed it from circa 1973 as a Mammoth Mart,
then in 1979 or '80 as a King's Department Store.

It was listed as 'Farm Fresh' in 1983,
but it is not clear if it was a full Farm Fresh, or one of the Giant or Rich's subsidaries
to begin with. Still, they erected that giant facade with the chasing lights, probably
still covered by all that stucco...

As said, Winn-Dixie did not change the architecture of the facade in any way, aside
from the color paint on the rooflines.

*Interior departments
The interior structural architecture was not modified either, only the cosmetic changes of
wallpapering, paint and logo additions.

The position of ceiling elevations, position of lighting fixtures and type of ceiling tiles are all
original (and surprisingly well-maintained for a Winn-Dixie!)

Store departments are still located in their original alcove locations along the store's periphery.

The deli/bakery was of above normal size, at least I thought for even a Farm Fresh in the '90s.
Included was a giant salad/soup bar, melon and juice bar and a large donut/pastry case. The
different colored tile in the foreground was where the salad bar used to sit. Alas by the time
I took the picture, most of the equipment had been carted off. Also located adjacent to it
was a full-size cafe, which Winn-Dixie continued to operate for a few years before shutting it
down for add'l merchandising space.


The seafood department
still occupied its rear central location between the meats and the produce department...


The frozen foods still retained the original mix of chest and upright-doored freezers, becoming somewhat anachronistic in the late 90s and 2000s.


Along the front wall turning left upon entering the store
were the dry cleaners (not shown), tobacco counter (not shown),
photo lab, pharmacy and florist, all of which were hold-overs
from Farm Fresh and still operated by Winn-Dixie incl. a small
video rental until the latter's pullout in 2004.


Posted: 16 Nov 2008 13:47
by carolinatraveler
As promised, here is the photo of the prototypical Giant Open Air Market. THis site was at Wards Corner in Norfolk and opened in 1963 or 64, but identical stores were built at Alexanders Corner in Portsmouth and at Mercury Plaza in Hampton. Other similar stores were built up through the early 1980s, although I don't know of any of this design ever being built in North Carolina.

Wayne Henderson