Did you do any grocery shopping in town lately? Buy any steaks? A head of lettuce? There are none that I’m aware of within the city limits of Trenton.
Once upon a time there were many places to buy meat and produce here. The first memorable food chain to establish in Trenton was Kroger, located at the center of downtown at West Jefferson and West. It was a popular store in the 1940s and 50s. After leaving Trenton, Kroger opened on Grosse Ile and has been there on Macomb Street for decades.
Competing with Kroger in Trenton was A&P; it had two periods of time in town, the first was on West Jefferson Avenue by Elm Street. The old A&P on Jefferson gave an atmosphere of shopping in the 1940s. An individual who worked as a cashier at the old store needed two-handed skills, with the right hand ringing up the item, and the left hand guiding the item to the end of the counter. Next, a bagger would display his expertise by putting as many groceries in a paper bag (not much plastic used back then) without crushing the mostly sensitive items such as loaves of bread and cartons of eggs; often the customer came home to disappointment if a novice did the packing.
A&P, a storied food company, had more than 15,000 stores nationwide at its peak and down to less than 300 in 2015. A&P stands for the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co.; one of its specialties was coffee, named “Eight O’Clock Coffee.” Nowadays folks are on their fourth cup of coffee by 8 a.m. A&P’s second establishment in Trenton was at Van Horn and Fort Street around 1990 — sandwiched between two other food corporations: Chatham and Food Town.
A great store in the 1950s and ’60s was Nationals, located in what is now the home of Trenton public school buses on Veterans Parkway. The size of the bus storage is evidenced by how large the Nationals store was; I remember the wide aisles. Nationals was the fourth-largest chain in the country at that time. I recently read one of their old ads in an old Trenton newspaper. They had the motto, “No sales to dealers,” which Farmer Jack adopted as well — but really their prices were on par with A&P and Kroger, it was merely a sales slogan.
A new Wrigley store opened on June 17, 1958, in the West Grange Shopping Center, with the new manager Harold Begdorian welcoming Trenton Mayor Robert Tiefer to a guided tour of the store. In addition to Robert Tiefer being Trenton’s first mayor, he was himself an independent grocer in Trenton for 28 years.
Wrigley’s made a big splash here when it announced 24-hour shopping in the early 1970s. Though quite common today, it meant you could go shopping there at 2 a.m. Aside from all the big chain stores, Trenton had many independent grocery stores as well.
M&M market was the largest, which was owned by the Elias family and carried the Spartan brand of products. It was a very lengthy store that filled every grocery need and has remained in family hands, except nowadays it is a quality camping center business, located on Jefferson entering Elizabeth Park.
Trentonites remember Donofrio’s Market and their picturesque fruit, so lovely one couldn’t decide whether to eat them or display them in their living room for decoration. Two popular grocery stores that specialized in meat were Ray’s Prime Meats and Jerry’s Butcher Shop — both stores are still going strong, though unfortunately not in Trenton anymore.
There were also small independent markets such as Lafeve’s on West, Gulley’s on Third and Ben’s on Fourth. All sold fresh meat at one time. Many years ago Trenton had its own traveling grocery store — a guy named Charlie driving around in a converted school bus selling vegetables and all kinds of goodies. The front of the bus read “Here comes Charlie,” the back read, you guessed it, “There goes Charlie.” Charlie would sell his products at the back of the bus, reminding me of those old west days and dudes selling medicine at the back of the stagecoach.
The definition of a food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food, usually in impoverished areas. Trenton isn’t a low-income community, it just doesn’t have a full-service food market among its 20,000 residents. Trenton does have two good stores hugging its borders — Trentwood Market in Woodhaven and Carlos and Joe’s in Riverview. As for supermarkets outside city limits, chains like Kroger, Walmart and Meijer are close by. The European invention named Aldi is also a good option; you bring your own bags and you rent a shopping cart and like Hertz and Avis, there’s someone to inspect your cart for scratches when returning — just kidding.
For now, we have no store to call our own, so if you want vegetables you’ll have to plant a garden, for meat you’ll have to raise your own cattle — but you’ll need to obtain a variance.
Tony Mazzella welcomes readers to friend him on Facebook, where he frequently shares recollections about some of the interesting people and businesses in Trenton’s past.