Before there was Weingarten Realty Investors, there was Weingarten’s Food Market. After several ventures in small grocery stores at the turn of the twentieth century, Harris and Joe Weingarten opened the first Weingarten’s Food Market in 1920. Unlike their previous stores, Weingarten’s Food Market operated on the new self-service/cash-and-carry system.
The first self-service store, Piggly Wiggly, opened 100 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. Just four years later, the idea had traveled 500 miles south to the Weingarten family in Houston, Texas.
Prior to 1916, customers ordered groceries from a clerk, who then gathered all the goods from behind the counter while the customers waited. This method resulted in long lines and high labor costs. The new self-service method, however, allowed customers to gather their own groceries, saving time and money for both store and customer.
The new cash-and-carry system required payment (at the time, cash) upon transaction and meant the customer had to carry their own purchases home. Before the cash-and-carry method, customers ordered groceries on credit and had them delivered to their homes, which also contributed to the high cost of labor.
Both systems were heavily doubted upon inception, but they’ve since become—and have remained—the standard in American shopping. In 1992, stores even started using self-checkouts, further reducing labor costs and wait times.
However, a “new” trend has recently emerged in the way we shop for groceries. Customers once again want to place orders for goods, on credit, and have them delivered to their doorsteps. It’s the same way we shopped a hundred years ago before self-service; it just so happens that we now place the orders online instead of in person.
As this full-service trend accounts for just two to four percent of all grocery sales, it seems like a novel idea. Self-service has become so ingrained in our grocery-shopping experience that we forget stores were ever without it.
So to celebrate a century of this revolutionary self-service phenomenon, we want to share the newspaper ad declaring the opening of the first-ever self-service/cash-and-carry Weingarten’s Food Market, published in The Houston Post on Friday, April 30, 1920.
See above for the original ad from The Houston Post. See below for a more readable reproduction.