LIMA — On the northeast corner of Market and Metcalf streets, where the Maire family home had stood since late in the 19th century, ads in the Lima News proclaimed that something new would be coming in the middle of the 20th century.
“Wait ‘til you see the new Albers Super Market … It’s a dream of a store … It’s a supermarket that is years ahead,” an ad in the May 6, 1949, edition of The Lima News proclaimed. “You have never shopped in a store that was designed to make to make your shopping as easy, as fast or as pleasant …”
Although there were larger stores — like Pangle’s at Central and Circular or Hepler’s on South Kenilworth — the majority of Lima’s grocery stores in the middle of the 20th century were neighborhood places like Bishop’s on St. Johns Avenue or Gallagher’s on East Fourth Street or the Quality Market on West North Street. The 1950 Lima City Directory listed more than 100, mostly small, mostly locally owned neighborhood grocery stores in Lima.
Cincinnati-based Albers promised something different. Ads touted the store’s “vast assortment of frozen fresh foods,” refrigerated “self-service fresh fruit and vegetables,” pre-packaged meat wrapped in cellophane and other product, which could be whisked from shopping cart to car with the aid of the “new electric conveyor check outs” and “magic electric-eye doors.”
Born in Cincinnati in 1880, William H. Albers in 1928 became president of the Kroger chain as it expanded from 190 to 5,600 stores, mostly in Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan. In 1933 he set out on his own, founding Albers Super Markets Inc. with the first store in Cincinnati and more following in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. Albers stores had wide aisles, fluorescent lighting and provided shopping carts for customers. More importantly, the stores offered lower prices — which were marked on each item — than did independent grocers.
By 1948, the Albers chain had grown to about 50 stores and announced plans to build a store in Lima. “When the huge store at the northeast corner of Metcalf and Market streets is placed in operation, it will be number 53 for the Cincinnati firm,” the News wrote on May 4, 1949, in advance of the 90-by-100-foot, $300,000 store’s grand opening.
On May 11, 1949, the store was officially opened by Lima Mayor W.L. Ferguson. In an address to about 100 guests at a dinner in the Argonne Hotel the night before the opening, Albers declared that “food reaches the consumer today at the lowest markup in history … a $10 basket of groceries means a 15-cent profit to the retailer.”
Less than three weeks after Albers visited Lima for the store’s grand opening, the city was visited by another soon-to-be-well-known person. At 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 28, 1949, a gunman followed the wives of two employees into the store as they returned from a nearby restaurant, the News reported. A “shot was fired in an attempt to force Fred Guy, market manager, to open the safe,” the newspaper added. “When Guy told the holdup man a time-lock made that impossible, the man fled to a car outside where a confederate was waiting.” The holdup man, Earl D. Birchman, dubbed the “Tennessee Badman” by newspapers, would soon also be known as America’s “Public Enemy No. 1.”
On Dec. 16, 1949, the News announced that Kroger would open a large supermarket in the 600 block of South Main Street about midsummer 1950. “Opening of the Kroger unit will be the second supermarket operation here within a little more than a year,” the newspaper wrote. “Albers Supermarket Inc., opened last May at 572 W. Market St.”
On May 24, 1954, the day after the first doses of a new polio vaccine reached Lima, the News reported a Cleveland real estate agent had announced plans to build a $2 million shopping center at the northwest corner of Allentown and Cable roads to be known as Westgate Shopping Center. “The Kroger Co. and Albers Super Markets Inc., each will have stores in the center. The stores will occupy 18,000 feet of floor space each,” the newspaper noted.
Before that could happen, however, the Albers stores were purchased and merged with Colonial Stores, headquartered in Atlanta. “The merger of Albers Super Markets and Colonial Stores was approved today by the stockholders of the two grocery chains,” United Press International reported on May 10, 1955. “The merged company will operate under the name of Colonial, but Albers stores are expected to retain their identity as a separate division.”
The 76th Albers store opened at Westgate on Nov. 13, 1956. “Like the other Albers supermarket on West Market Street, the Westgate store also will give S and H green stamps with purchases,” the newspaper wrote, adding, “The Market Street store, incidentally, will continue operating.”
Six years later, 13 years after moving into Lima, Albers announced it was moving out. On July 5, 1962, the News reported that the Albers store at Westgate had been purchased by Pangle’s Master Markets. “Purchase of the Westgate store gives Pangle’s seven operating outlets in its chain. An eighth store is under construction in Sidney and is expected to open in August or September.” The News added that representatives of Albers were expected in Lima that afternoon “to discuss both the sale of Albers store at Westgate and closing of the Market Street store.”
At 9 p.m. July 7, 1962, Albers closed their two Lima stores. Three days later as workmen were removing a 1,200-pound clock that was part of the Albers sign at the Westgate, a boom on the crane buckled and the clock crashed on to the roof of the new Pangle’s store.
On March 29, 1966, the building which housed the Albers store on West Market Street was sold to a local real estate developer. The developer announced that Harter’s Fabric would lease the east section of the building, while a Sherwin-Williams Paint shop would occupy the west section.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.
See past Reminisce stories at limaohio.com/tag/reminisce
Earl Bircham, the gunman who had unsuccessfully attempted to rob Lima’s new Albers supermarket on May 28, 1949, was a fugitive from a Kansas prison after a crime career extending into Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri.
By August 1949 he was the FBI’s Public Enemy No. 1 when police in Louisville, Kentucky, tried to pull him over for a traffic violation. A car chase ended in a gun battle, during which one policeman was killed and another seriously injured.
The 49-year-old was subsequently captured, escaped, recaptured and sentenced to death in Kentucky. “Smiling and waving in a show of courage, but protesting he was ‘no murderer at heart,’ Bircham was put to death in the Kentucky state prison electric chair at 1:10 a.m.,” The Lima News reported on Feb. 1, 1952. “Goodbye and good luck to all of you,” the Tennessee native said as he waved to reporters before entering the death chamber, according to the News.
Bircham’s accomplice in the attempted robbery of Albers, Charles E. Hunter, of Gallatin, Tennessee, was also captured and, like Bircham, briefly escaped from custody in Mississippi. He eventually was sentenced to prison for a robbery in Springfield, Ohio. Hunter was the getaway driver for the Albers robbery attempt, driving a car stolen from a local auto dealership.
Meanwhile, a man named Ralph Eaches, who had been wrongly imprisoned for the robbery of a Marion, Ohio, supermarket, was released in 1950 after serving more than a year in prison when Bircham admitted that he had carried out the robbery. Eaches received $7,500 from the state.