701-705 East Franklin Street
A grocery store ahead of its time.
The best joke book extant is the cook book of pre-war vintage,” declares Mrs. Caroline B. King, domestic science expert who has introduced a brand-new idea into the retailing of groceries.
She is now on the executive staff of the Old Dutch Market Company, which operates a chain of grocery stores in Washington, D. C. The company is opening a new one —it will be the largest in its chain—in Richmond, Va. That store has a feature that would seem wholly foreign to a food market. It is a school room or lecture hall, where its customers and the public generally may get from Mrs. King expert advice about foods and how to handle them to best advantage in view of scarcities and high prices.
“What I say about the cook books,” continued Mrs. King, “applies to my own as well as to others. Get one and see how conditions have made jokes out of most of the recipes which a few years ago were the proud boasts of all of us cook book writers. You will find pounds of butter and dozens of eggs and hampers of sugar mentioned as if they were available in unlimited quantities to every housewife.
“High food prices will revolutionize kitchen practices by forcing housewives to get results in ways that the cook books of even a few years ago don’t point out.
“In this transition the retail grocery store can be and out of self interest should be of help to the cook befuddled by conditions that don’t seem to be improving or even promising to improve very much.
“It should be able to help with advice and information as well as to sell food.” In line with that idea, Mrs. King has created a domestic science and home economics department for the Old Dutch chain of stores. It was undertaken a few months ago as an experiment. According to J. W. Whitfield, president of the company, the plan so far has been remarkably successful, though to date it couldn’t be elaborated to fullest possibilities. The reason is that none of the Old Dutch markets, like virtually all other markets, were equipped for cooking schools and lectures, or even elaborate demonstrations.
When Mrs. King was engaged, the Old Dutch Market Company was preparing to enter Richmond, Va., where it has opened a market where they expect to do a business of a million dollars or more a year. It will be among the largest retail grocery stores in the South. In planning it, the company’s executives studied the field with thoroughness and have endeavored to organize it in a way that will cause it to most fully meet the city’s needs.
“It is singular,” says Mr. Whitfield, “that most people think anybody with any kind of equipment can successfully retail food, the most important and in many ways the most intricate of all merchandising. Food isn’t like such things as hats, cloaks and shoes, which with moderate care will keep indefinitely. A great many foods, and especially meats and green groceries, must be moved rapidly and skillfully by persons of good ability and training, if they are properly conserved and distributed. But to make managers and clerks of that kind possible, you must have big volume of business, preferably under a single roof, so that the overhead will be distributed over a big trade, and low margin of gross profit made practicable.
“That idea prevailed in the organization of our Richmond store.” Upstairs over the store is a large hall that will be used by Mrs. King in carrying on extension work directly with the store’s customers and the public generally.
“Then the store can improve its business and also be of practical help to its customers by showing them how to use foods, or forms thereof, against which there is unmerited prejudice. Take frozen fish, for example. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be consumed in immense quantities, and they can be delivered to the inland housewife cheaper than other fish. It is only a matter of education, for frozen fish to become as popular as any other kind. But it involves more than the mere information that, on the authority of the United States Bureau of Chemistry, fish properly frozen and stored—as is the case with most of them put on the market—are excellent food. The housewife must be shown how to handle and prepare the fish.
“It is that way with many foods of a seasonal or storage character.” Recently the Old Dutch Market people startled food circles of the East by importing into Washington a large supply of New Zealand lamb which they were able to sell far below the prices for domestic lamb. It necessarily was frozen and the stores’ clientele was not accustomed to buying frozen meats. Then, too, the antipodal character of the word New Zealand suggested doubts about the quality of the meat.
Mrs. King helped to popularize the product by inserting unique lamb cooking recipes in Old Dutch advertising that appeared in the daily papers. They were applicable to any variety of lamb, for the New Zealand kind didn’t differ materially from the domestic, but the originality of many of the recipes overcame prejudice against the new product. [TAFJ]
In addition to the grocery business, the Old Dutch also had a restaurant, a bakery, a cannery, one of the largest meat storage plants in the city, manufactured its own ice, and had its own plant for smoking meats. [COC] That was pretty cutting edge for the time, perhaps a little too much so, and it closed during the Great Depression in 1937.
The building itself lasted until 1967 when it was demolished to make way for the Modernist abomination that stands today. Not that Modernism is bad, but 701 East Franklin is not that style’s finest hour.
(Old Dutch Market is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)
- [COC] A Century of Commerce, 1867-1967. James K. Sanford. 1967.
- [TAFJ] Science Enters the Retail Grocery. The American Food Journal. Aaron Hardy Ulm. July 1920.
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