The Fred Meyer Story

Fred Meyer poses for an advertisement photo checking out groceries,  circa 1950. Ackroyd-Marks Studio Coll 199 b7.f2 ba026202

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In New York City in 1886, Fred G. Meyer was born. His name at the time was Frederick Grubmeyer, but soon people would know him best as Fred Meyer, the owner of the stores with the same name. All seven brothers in his father's family were grocers so it was perhaps inevitable that Fred would follow in the family trade. He left New York as a young man and headed out west first to Alaska, then Seattle and eventually Portland, Oregon.

In many ways, the story of Fred G. Meyer and Fred Meyer, Inc. mirrors the story of the expansion and development of the city of Portland from a small, rugged, Western town to a booming metropolis. Fred's first business venture in the city was delivering coffee and tea by horse cart to nearby logging camps.  This was back when much of what we think of as Portland and its suburbs were still thick forests. He then opened a storefront on SW 4th and Yamhill just as the center of downtown shifted to that neighborhood. From this one store, Fred Meyer, Inc. would grow to become a successful chain that would eventually span 8 states and employ thousands.

Follow the story of Fred Meyer from its humble beginnings to its expansion across the West.

The Early Years, 1922 – 1940

Throughout the 1930s, Fred Meyer's business expanded throughout Downtown Portland and then into the outlying areas of Portland. Fred Meyer had a certain knack for figuring out what the next big thing would be. In 1928 he opened one of the first self-service drugstores in the world at a time when people usually had to buy toiletries and pharmaceutical products directly from a pharmacist. He also predicted the rise of the automobile and made sure that all his outlying stores had ample parking, many with auto service available on site. The Hollywood store which opened in 1931 had a rooftop parking lot, a first for the city and a great draw for customers for both the convenience and the novelty of it.

The stores also featured in-house brands of inexpensive, pre-packaged goods under the brand name My-Te-Fine. This brand name would become the signature motto of the company.

But Fred Meyer is perhaps best known for pioneering the concept of one-stop shopping. In addition to the grocery sections, his stores included many departments with everything a shopper might need, eliminating the need for multiple trips to several locations.

Fred Meyer circa 1935

Fred G. Meyer in the mid-1930s. At this point, he had about a dozen stores throughout Portland.

Eva C. Meyer portrait 1939

Eva C. Meyer, circa 1935.  Fred and Eva were married in 1919 after meeting in a diner where Fred would do his paperwork and where Eva worked. Eva would become the Secretary-Treasurer of Fred Meyer, Inc. and was instrumental in the growth and development of the company.

Vista Grocery store circa 1935

This is a merchandise display at the first Fred Meyer stores in downtown Portland on SW Yamhill. (circa 1935)

Fred Meyer Store, SW 3rd and Morrison

Opened in 1928, this was one of the very first self-service drugstores in the world. The idea was so novel that wholesalers refused to sell merchandise to Fred Meyer. In order to stock his store, he bought up smaller drugstores and used their inventory.

Exterior Hollywood Fred Meyer Store, circa 1931

One of the first "suburban" Fred Meyer stores, the Hollywood store on SE Sandy and 42nd opened in 1931. For years, Fred Meyerwould pay the parking tickets for customers who visited his downtown stores and got caught in no-parking zones. By paying the tickets, he found out where most of these customers lived and since many were coming from the NE sector of the city, he decided to open his next store there.

Old Hawthorne Store on SE 36th Ave

Fred Meyer opened another store in what was then an outlying part of the city, SE Hawthorne and 36th Avenues. You may recognize this storefront as the current location of the Bread and Ink Café.

Demonstrating a rolling shopping basket circa 1938

Fred Meyer's stores were among the first to offer rolling shopping carts to shoppers. (circa 1936)

Fred Meyer lunch counter, 1938

Some of the Fred Meyer locations included lunch counters which became popular gathering places.  (circa 1937)

Rose Festival Parade Float 1939

This is the Fred Meyer float for the 1938 Rose Festival Parade.  

Train transporting tires for Fred Meyer 1938

Fred Meyer never missed an opportunity to promote his products. Here, a train car transporting tires for the stores' automotive departments in 1938 sports a banner declaring their destination.

Frd Meyer Butchers 1938

Butchers at the Hollywood store pose with turkeys for sale for Thanksgiving, 1938.

Lollipop window display 1939

A display case advertising candies and lollipops at the downtown 6th Avenue store, 1939.

Juice booth demonstration

A booth promoting vegetable and fruit juices (and the juicer to make them) at Fred Meyer, 1936.

Peter Mudie poses with corn

Fred Meyer sponsored a very popular radio show on KOIN Radio called "Consumer News." It was hosted by Peter Mudie (seen here in 1938) and remained on the air for 32 years.

Apple Week display circa 1939

Fred Meyer stores often promoted local produce and had an annual Oregon Apple Week celebration in the fall. This display is at the Hollywood store in 1938.

Stadium Grand Opening - My-Te-Fine cupboard

A display case at the opening of the Stadium Fred Meyer store on NW 21st and Burnside shows some of the many products prepared under the My-Te-Fine brand name, 1939.

Fred Meyer stores were a huge part of downtown Portland throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Here you can see what one store looked like circa 1935 during the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade.

The Meyers traveled extensively and whenever they could they visited the places where their store products originated. In this clip, Fred and Eva make a stop at a grapefruit orchard during a Florida vacation. He inspects that fruits that may soon travel to store many miles away.

World War II, 1941 – 1945

As it was everyone, World War II was a challenging time for the Fred Meyer stores. The stores had to cope with smaller staffs due to employees' enlistment and they struggled to keep stores stocked due to product shortages. One of the ways they dealt with shortages was by stepping up their own in-house productions and developing local networks for supplies. 

With the war also came an influx of migrants who arrived to work in the Portland shipyards. The company scrambled to meet the needs of these new residents. Fred Meyer hastily assembled stores to cater to these newcomers who were concentrated in North Portland.

Fred Meyer, his family and employees did what they could to support the war effort. They hosted war bond auctions, picnics for GIs, victory garden shows and more. Fred Meyer even donated the decorative metalwork from his downtown 6th Avenue store to be used in shipbuilding.

 
Exterior of Columbia Park Store (near University of Portland), circa 1942 Coll 199 b12.12

This store was opened quickly in an existing warehouse in North Portland in order to provide a grocery store for the 14,000 new residents of University Homes, a housing development for people working in the wartime shipyards. This picture was taken soon after opening in 1943.

Exterior of the Fred Meyer store on SW 6th Avenue as it appeared in 1935. Coll 199

This is how the 6th Avenue Fred Meyer store in downtown Portland appeared before the beginning of World War II.

Workers remove the Art Deco aluminum grills decorating the front of the Fred Meyer store on SW 6th Avenue and Morrison in downtown Portland in order to donate the metal to the war effort, 1940. Coll 199

Workers remove the decorative metalwork that appeared on the façade of the 6th Avenue store. The metal was then donated to the war effort and went towards building ships.

Billboard advertising My-Te-Fine brand coffee. Coll 199 bOSD-1.f6

A World War II era billboard displays an advertisement for the every-expanding My-Te-Fine brand.

Prizes at a Fred Meyer-sponosred War Bond Auction. Coll 199 b32.f22

Fred Meyer sponsored several War Bond Auctions throughout the war years in order to raise money for the war effort.

Victory Garden show at Stadium Fred Meyer. Judges look over prize onions. Coll 199 b32.f22

Because of widespread food shortages during the war, citizens were encouraged to grow Victory Gardens, that is, home vegetable gardens to supplement their diet. Fred Meyer hosted classes and shows for these Victory Gardens. In this picture, judges evaluate home-grown onions, 1943.

Ad offering to buy local farmers' eggs

Another consequence of wartime disruptions was a shortage of eggs which Fred Meyer stores needed for everything from mayonnaise production to baked goods. During the war, they regularly ran ads in local papers offering to buy local farmers' eggs.

Exterior of Fred Meyer Bakery and Candy kitchen on SE Hawthorne. Coll 199 b10.f3

Fred Meyer began opening production plants to supply their stores in the 1930s. By the 1940s the production plants included a bakery, dairy, candy-making factory, a mayonnaise kitchen and egg-packing facility. Having independent supply and distribution networks mitigated the effects of wartime shortages. This is the bakery on SE Hawthorne and 11th Avenues, circa 1941.

Women working in the Fred Meyer egg packing factory.  Coll 199 b10.f4

A woman packing egg crates at the egg packing facility, circa 1942.

Two women work at the Fred Meyer dairy plant test kitchen. Coll 199 b10.f5

Women working at the Fred Meyer dairy plant kitchens, circa 1945.

Man stands in Fred Meyer candy kitchen with a huge spoon surounded by large mixers and bowls. Coll 199 b10.f2

Man working at the Fred Meyer candy-making facility, circa 1940.

Fred Meyer was dedicated to the war effort during the Second World War and often hosted bond drives, fundraisers, scrap metal collections and more at his stores. Here he hosts a picnic for GIs on leave.

The Postwar Boom and Beyond, 1946 – 1978

After the War, Portland continued to grow. The postwar boom led to a rapid and dramatic expansion of the Fred Meyer brand. Families began moving into the rapidly developing suburbs and Fred Meyer stores soon followed. In the suburbs where land was plentiful and cheap, the stores grew into supercenters, sprawling department stores, which had groceries, but also hosted a wide variety of goods from automotive parts and garden supplies to apparel and jewelry.

Fred Meyer seemed to have a knack for predicting where the next big area of development in the Portland area would be. He would often buy a parcel of land cheaply before the area was populated. Then once houses and other business moved in, he would build his supercenter in the midst of bustling commercial center.

By the mid-sixties, Fred Meyer had his sights set beyond the Portland area. The company first purchased the Markettime chain in Seattle, Washington and then began acquiring many other smaller chains around the Pacific Northwest. By the end of the sixties, they had over 40 stores in 4 states.

Cake cutting at the Hawthorne store grand opening. Caption on back reads, "Grand openings were always events. Glen Day cutting cake." Coll 199 b13.f7

At the Grand Opening of the new Hawthorne store in 1951. Fred Meyer would open many new stores over the next few decades and they were always big events – and always involved big cakes!

Interstate Fred Meyer grand opening celebration. Eva Meyer jokes wth the crowd and the cake baker.  Coll 199 b13.f10

The Grand Opening of the Interstate store in 1953. Eva Meyer looks approvingly at the grand cake.

Gateway grand opening cake cutting celebration. Fred Meyer, Eva Meyer and Peter Mudie stand by the cake as it is cut with the ceremonial giant knife. Coll 199 b14.f2

Another big opening and another big cake. Fred and Eva Meyer joined by radio personality Peter Mudie preside over the cake-cutting at the new Gateway Shopping Center in 1954.

Exterior shot of the Hollywood Fred Meyer at NE Sandy and 42nd Avenue. includes a view of the roof parking lot and the Hollywood Theatre in the background. circa 1959. Coll 199 b12.f4

Fred Meyer understood that car culture meant that ample parking was a must. Hollywood store, circa 1955.

Pauline Lawrence, head of Fred Meyer Coffee Shops, demonstrates how to use the new Radar Range microwave oven at the Burlingame. It was the first such installation in the Western US. Coll 199 b23.f1

Head of Fred Meyer's Restaurants, Pauline Lawrence, demonstrates the new Radar Range oven at the Burlingame store in 1956. This new, high tech microwave oven was the first installation of its kind in the Western U.S.

Peter Mudie uses a ladder to climb up a giant wheel of Wisonsin cheese. Sign reads: "The biggest cheese in teh world made expressly for the Fred Meyer Cheese Festival." Coll 199 b33.f6

Radio personality, Peter Mudie, celebrates the Fred Meyer Cheese Festival by climbing atop the world's largest cheese, 1959.

Fred Meyer feeds cheese to the Clark County Dairy Princess at the opening celebration of the Hazel Dell store. The cheese was a giant wheel of cheddar specially made in Wisconsin for the store opening. Coll 199 b16.f1

Fred Meyer enjoys a small bite of the world's largest cheese with the Clark County Dairy Princess at the grand opening of the Hazel Dell store in 1962.

Earle A. Chiles poses with Eve's frozen cherry pie and MyTe-Fine Jersey Milk. Coll 199 b9.f5

President of the Fred Meyer company (and Fred's stepson), Earle A. Chiles poses with some of the company's own products including My-Te-Fine Milk and Eve's Frozen Pie (which was named after Fred's wife). (circa 1962)

Fred Meyer products presented in the 1971 Annual Shareholders Report. Coll 199 b19

This photo spread shows the growth of the kinds of products now being produced by Fred Meyer, Inc. By the early 1960s they were making everything from chocolates to vitamins.

Cartoon map showing the Pacific Northwest and the locations of Fred Meyer stores. Coll 199 b19.f6

This map from 1965 shows the growing expansion of Fred Meyer stores throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Music section of Gresham store on Grand Opening day. Coll 199 b15.f1

Moving into the 1970s, Fred Meyer stores added more and more departments, including music and electronics.

Portrait of Fred Meyer at approximately 90 years old.  Coll 199 b7.f2

Fred G. Meyer, circa 1976 at about 90 years old. Fred continued to work at the company until shortly before his death in 1978 at the age of 92.

Fred Meyer loved the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife Eva had a home in Wemme, Oregon on Mt. Hood which they called "Eve's Eden." They would stay in the rustic surroundings as often as they could, swimming, gardening, hunting and otherwise playing and enjoying the outdoors. In these clips, you'll see: Fred Meyer and his groundskeeper, Jack Fisher, fell a huge tree on the property; Fred and Eva Meyer playing on a giant seesaw at nearby Camp Arrah Wanna; Fred and Eva riding a tandem bicycle together ; and Fred washing dishes at their outdoor kitchen where he's joined first by his stepson, Earle A. Chiles and then by Eva. 

After Eva's death in 1960, Fred Meyer preferred to stay in Portland. His business empire grew exponentially in the years following and he would later say, "After the Missus passed on, I had nothing better to do. I enjoyed life with her and without her there wasn't much to do so I opened more stores."

Fred Meyer was interviewed on KATU news by Gerry Pratt in 1976 when he was nearly 90 years old. He discusses current events, the development of his business and his personal philosophies.

Fred Meyer after Fred Meyer, 1978 – 2010

Fred G. Meyer passed away in 1978, but his store and his legacy lives on. The company continued its expansion, acquiring more small grocery chains throughout the West. The kinds of goods sold at the stores continued to expand as well and new stores included electronics departments, home improvement sections and exercise equipment.

By the mid-nineties, Fred Meyer's stores merged with another national chain, Kroger, Inc. to become the largest grocery store chain in the country. The Fred Meyer name is still used for the stores in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, there are now over 130 stores with the Fred Meyer name. And to think, it all started with a man delivering coffee on horseback!

Beaverton Fred Meyer grocery aisles decorated for Grand Opening Day. Coll 199 b15f2

One of the first stores to open after the death of Fred Meyer, the Beaverton location was the largest and most ambitious store to date. The site was a testament to Fred G. Meyer's prescience in the real estate market: he had bought this land decades earlier when there was little development anywhere nearby. When the store opened, it was perfectly located at the intersection of Highway 217 and the Beaverton-Hillsdale highway. (1979)

Huge crowds await the appearance of Farrah Fawcett at the grand opening of the Beaverton store, 1979. Coll 199 b27.f3

As seen on the cover of the Fred Meyer employee newsletter, huge crowds gathered at the grand opening of the Beaverton store not only to see the state-of-the-art new facility, but also to catch a glimpse of Farrah Fawcett who hosted the celebration. (1979)

Hawthorne store mannequin store display in clothing department, circa 1986. Coll 199 b13.f9

The Fred Meyer apparel departments continued to keep up with the latest fashions. This is a display from around 1986 at the Hawthorne store.

Jewelry store inside Salmon Creek, Wash. Fred Meyer on opening day. Coll 199 b17.4

The departments in Fred Meyer stores began to change and expand, too. Every new Fred Meyer store had a stand-alone jewelry store.

Little girl in electronics department tests out a Commodore 64 computer. Coll 199 b11.f9

The Fred Meyer electronics departments evolved with the advent of personal computers. Here a girl is seen testing out a Commodore 64 computer, circa 1985.

The cover of the employee newsletter shows the doughnut manufacturing facilities at the Fred Meyer central bakery. Coll 199 b27.f5

Fred Meyer continued to expand its production facilities as well as its stores. Here, a baker oversees an automated doughnut machine. (1981)

Employee at Nutrition Center demonstrates exercise equipment. Coll 199 b11.f3

The fitness craze of the 1980s also made its way to Fred Meyer stores. Here a store employee demonstrates how to use the exercise equipment available for sale. (1986)

A couple weds at the Fred Meyer store in Eugene. Coll 199 b28.f3

Fred Meyer stores had become so much a part of life in Oregon that this couple decided to wed in the Eugene store where they met. (1986)

Fred Bear mascot poses with balloons in a Fred Meyer store. Coll 199 b34.f5

A new mascot, Fred Bear, was introduced in the 1980s and would make frequent appearances at the stores to promote events and openings.

A dog sits in a snow-filled truck bed in the parking lot of the Juneau Alaska Fred Meyer store on opening day. Coll 199 b18.f

The company continued to expand into more cities and states. One of the biggest leaps was to Alaska where they opened several stores in the 80s and 90s that are still in operation today. (1996)

Mayor of Wasilla Sarah Palin cuts the cake with a giant knife at the grand opening ceremony for the Wasilla Alaska store. Coll 199 b18.f

At the grand opening of the Wasilla, Alaska store in 1996 then-mayor Sarah Palin gets the honor of the cutting the cake with the traditional grand opening knife.

Shopping list notepad created after Fred Meyer took over Smitty's in Arizona. It reads "What's on your list today? You'll find it at Smitty's Marketplace." and it shows pictures of sun, cactus and chile pepper.  Coll 199 b5.10

Fred Meyer, Inc. also took over a chain of stores in Arizona called Smitty's Marketplace. They used marketing phrases similar to those used for Fred Meyer stores, but added some southwestern flair.

This list of top-selling items at Fred Meyer stores in 2008 shows the many kinds of new products he stores now specialize in. Coll 199 b  Feb 2008

This list of top-selling items at Fred Meyer stores in 2008 shows both the wide variety of items for sale and how much the retail landscape had changed since the start of the Fred Meyer stores nearly a century before.

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