Thursday, April 16, 2009

Yep, it's been a while../Grocery store neon

Ahh, good to be back. I have tried to do some neoning and post on here at least a few times a month since starting this project back in late 2007, but March was my first postless month. A pretty major illness that landed me at Grant Medical Center in late February and well into March sidelined me for a while. I am doing much better now and hope to get back to full strength over the spring.

So my first neon tour since before I was put on the disabled list I was with my daughter and shot a few photos of somewhere I had wanted to for a long while. Yep, the grocery store. An unusual place for good neon, admittedly. But, for me, there is some meaning and memories behind it. The actual place where I shot these was the Victorian Village Giant Eagle, on Neil Avenue near Thurber Village. The location has not always been a Giant Eagle, however. This was once the location of the now defunct Big Bear Chain, which was started and headquartered in Columbus. I got my 'real' job was at the Big Bear Plus location on E. Main street in Whitehall when I was 16, and worked there for over 4 years. Big Bear was considered my Columbus old timers to be the hometown store and the nicest of the major chains which also had a presence in the Columbus market. Cincinnati based Kroger has been in the market for decades, with Pennsylvania based Giant Eagle entering the Columbus market around the turn of the century (I think it was November 2000 when they built their first Columbus store up on Rt. 161, and I was probably one of the first few hundred customers to shop there since I lived almost across the street from it). Meijer and Wal-Mart have also been considered major players in the Columbus supermarket arena. Anyway, to make a long story short, Big Bear began to lose market share as they focused more on value than on quality after being acquired by a larger grocery operator called Penn Traffic. That move didn't work as Kroger began to expand aggressively thus enabling even lower prices and bigger selection. Bad management from the new parent company combined with the expansion of Kroger and influx of new chains and specialty stores led to Big Bear's collapse, as the last stores closed in early 2004, though the writing was being written on the wall even when I was still working for the company. Big Bear was known in the industry for it's many innovations in the supermarket world, many of which we take for granted such as price scanning and private labeling. Another thing the chain was known for, especially within it's home base of Columbus, was it's use of color and paint schemes, as well as signage. Many of the older stores retained their 1950s and 60s era large NEON signs until their very end. Their warehouse on W. 3rd Avenue had a large neon sign which was a local landmark seen easily from Rt. 315 heading toward downtown Columbus. When the chain went out of business, many locations were acquired by Giant Eagle, including the Victorian Village location. Some still sit empty, as the store on E. Main street where I once worked does. Most of the converted Giant Eagles have been remodeled, but this particular location really retains it's Big Bear elements, including the interior neon signage, which was extensively used by Big Bear in 1990s remodels and new builds. Honestly, except for the name and some of the merchandise, being in this location feels little different from being in the same store 12 years ago. Kroger also uses neon extensively in many of it's 90s and 2000s era stores, and I will get some pics sometime soon. Anyway, I have provided some links about the interesting history of this former Columbus institution.

These are not my best pics, as they were taken on my phone and I didn't have a lot of time to stand there and snap pictures of their signs, something businesses like to frown upon anyway. They were taken the afternoon of Wednesday, 4/15.
Now that I am "back", I have some catching up to do. I have some retake/missing links I have noticed while driving around that I want to get to. Some establishment specific locations I have in mind. Also, at the end of the month, road trip! My first ever since starting this blog. While it is a non-neon related trip, I will definitely be focusing SOME of my attention on the neon of the area I am going to. Happy springtime to all!

GO JACKETS! They play their first ever postseason tonight in Detroit against the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings! We can do it! Carry the Flag!!!!

Wikipedia has a good entry for Big Bear: Bear