Photograph by Jason Edwards
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An enormous row of check-out cash registers in a supermarket mall in Pretoria, South Africa.
Photograph by Jason Edwards

Your Shot: The Spread of the Supermarket

Once upon a time, American women went to the butcher, the baker, and the grocer to gather ingredients for supper. And the shops weren’t necessarily all on the same street. And the women had to be waited on one by one. The whole process took hours.

Then around 1916, a Piggly Wiggly opened in Memphis, Tennessee, on the premise that customers would save money if they wandered the aisles and filled their baskets themselves. By 1930, Andrew Cullen opened the first true supermarket in Queens, New York, offering low prices to a nation gripped by the Great Depression. The concept launched a whole new business of food packaging and marketing.

This new market concept certainly liberated women from spending all day food shopping. And who doesn’t like clean, well-lit aisles with an eye-popping variety of products to choose from?

But the rise of the supermarket has also contributed to suburban sprawl and put more distance—literally—between us and the source of our food (see Go East, Young Men.) Some children grow up thinking meat comes on slabs of styrofoam, shrinkwrapped—that is, if they’re lucky enough to have a supermarket nearby.

Still, supermarkets are an indispensable part of the food system. And now, after decades of rapid growth and the rise of megastores and discount stores around the world, some savvy retailers are returning to their roots. They are building smaller stores that fit into cityscapes and offering more rustic displays of produce. Funny, they now look more like the little groceries they once were.

Enjoy our Your Shot gallery of supermarkets around the world.