Day 10: Remember Kohl’s Food Store?

posted in: 30 Buildings in 30 Days | 59

Whatever happened to Kohl’s Food Stores: a question that strangely has arisen several times in the last few weeks. Kohl’s Food Stores are a distant memory of my early childhood on 67th and Villard. I’m not sure which one was closest, but I remember shopping there. However, by the time I returned to Milwaukee in 2003, they were gone.

Yesterday my question was answered, sort of. I visited the Pick N Save on Oakland Avenue in Shorewood. While perusing the aisles, the uncharacteristic and oddly arched ceiling struck me. This used to be a Kohl’s; that iconic arched roof became an architectural branding of the Kohl’s Food Stores.

So, what did happened to Kohl’s Food Stores? From the top, Maxwell Kohl immigrated to the States in the 1920s from Poland and for a period of time operated smaller, at the time, traditional grocery stores. It was in 1946, that Maxwell Kohl built his first “supermarket” at 4623 West Burleigh Street. However, it would appear that the first Kohl’s arch did not appear until 1950.

Kohl’s led the charge on the “modern” supermarket trend, including a deli and bakery under one roof; a practice that, now commonplace, was at the time unusual. By 1972, there were 50 Kohl’s Food Stores in southeastern Wisconsin; Kohl’s had become the largest supermarket chain in Milwaukee… until Pick N Save beat it at it’s own game in the 1980s. The family branded grocery store was sold to The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company in 1983, but continued to operate under the Kohl’s Food Store name. It wasn’t until 2003 that A & P decided to sell off Kohl’s Food Stores in response to needed debt reduction, and by the end of that year, Kohl’s Food Stores were closed.

What is more interesting to me than the fate of Kohl’s Food company, is what happened to the actual Kohl’s Food Stores; the buildings. To answer this question, I have to turn you over to the Andrew-Turnbull Network, who has done an impressive job documenting the origins and fate of Kohl’s Food Stores. The Kohl’s Food Store Flickr page,  likewise does a phenomenal job of visually documenting the Kohl’s Food Stores and how others have rebranded that iconic arch.

59 Responses

  1. I worked at Kohl’s on 124th and North from 1980-1985. Best high school and early college job ever. The pay was great, the employees cared about each other and the products were high quality. I knew I wanted a job there as a bagger when I was 15. I pestered the manager at the time – Tom Branta – for a job regularly, and he would tell me to come back when I turned 16. He saw me coming on my 16th birthday and I was hired right there – mostly so I would give him some peace I am sure. These were still the pre-scanner days when each item had a price sticker and cashiers entered them by hand. “Price checks” were a common request (and you better hustle to get it), bringing in strings of carts, sorting returned bottles and returning unwanted items to the shelves. One of my best memories was working at Kohls when the Brewers won the pennant in 1982. We had the game on the overhead speakers for everyone to hear. Such good memories – thanks Kohls…

  2. Someone is looking for the cream filled coffee cake recipe

  3. A friend is looking for a picture of Kohl’s Mac and cheese. Anybody have one?

  4. Wow…this is a trip down memory lane. Many of the original KOHL’S food store locations were built on land that was not in the most desirable spots, oftentimes along railroad tracks and angled street crossings. I don’t know if the real estate side of the KOHL’S family did this to acquire cheap building sites, or if this was just by accident. As for the arched roof design of the store, MAX KOHL “adopted” this familiar design first @ 86th and North Ave (now a SENDIK’S) from food stores (PENN FOODS) he saw in Philadelphia, PA. I don’t know if these were designed by the same architect or not, but I have also seem that exact same design used in California for different stores. I wonder if this was ever trademarked in some way. The KOHL’S family were marketing geniuses when it came to displaying food items. Most store layouts were the same, which meant that you could shop at any of the 50 or so locations and almost always find the same item(s) on the same shelf location, making them very user friendly decades before grocers thought about those things. They even were concerned with the color and brightness of their lightbulbs in the stores, researching how certain colors and types of bulbs “enhanced” the way food looked in the counters and on display. Fluorescent lights made fresh meat look unattractive, and they figured this out long before track lighting showcased meats and vegetables like we know it today. KOHL’S quality foods (I even think that that was their by-line for a while) ran circles around the national & regional chains like A&P, KROGER’S, KRAMBO’S, RED OWL, A&P, and later on, JEWEL OSCO. It is a shame the KOHL’S family sold their interests in the grocery side of the business around 1979, because they paid such great attention to them, even down to those quality bakery and deli items that we all grew up with.

  5. I worked at the Holton Street KOHL’S. I sure would like to reunite with some of those old employees(1973-1983).I took the buy out. Linda(Worthington) and others……………………………………. I am now in (ELVIS country) Memphis,Tn.

  6. Growing up, I lived about 5 blocks from the Burleigh location and remember the countlesss trips I made to that supermarket for mu mother and grandmother. Those were great days in y life.

  7. The bakery counter used to sell orange cake. Does anyone remember it?

  8. I have some Kohl’s tokens that my Brother-In-Law left me. On one side it says “Kohl’s THE BEST FOOD STORE IN TOWN” and the other side says “CHECK CASHING TOKEN 25 (with a cent mark)” Now I know where they came from. Thanks.

  9. Yeah I’m also curious what happened to Kohl’s store and now thanks to your blog, I now have an idea. Now I missing some foods that I used to buy from the store.

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