Please enable imagesThis year, Chain Store Guide celebrates its 80th anniversary.  In honor of this occasion, we are hosting a monthly series of editorials called “Chain Store Guide Through The Ages”, starting with the 1930s.  Each month we will take a look at a different decade and review what was happening in that time and how it effected the industries we now serve.  We would also like to introduce our newest mascot Chain Store Guy as your tour guide through our company’s history.

Chain Store Guide In The ’40s

The early 1940’s were dominated by World War II and its impact on the United States as well as many countries throughout the world. The U.S. experienced a cultural shift when many jobs once occupied by men were left vacant as they left for war. As a result women in great numbers left the home and entered the workplace. During a few of the war years, automobile production ceased and many Americans experienced hardships that included rationing of gasoline and food supplies.

As the war came to an end, the United States and the USSR emerged as world superpowers. Soldiers regained their jobs upon returning and many benefited from a paid college education as a result of the GI Bill of Rights. In 1949, three times as many college degrees were conferred as in 1940. The baby boom was underway and new suburban communities were growing rapidly. Home ownership became accessible to a large number of middle class Americans for the first time. The post –World War II economic boom, which brought about high economic growth worldwide, would last into the early 1970’s.


As Europe, and later America, entered World War II, fashion responded. Drabness and uniformity in clothing were embraced, and people were encouraged to make do with the clothing they already had. During the war, all types of cloth were needed for a variety of wartime purposes, and material for clothing was severely rationed. The United States government had requisitioned all silk supplies, forcing the hosiery industry to completely switch to nylon. Then in 1942 the government requisitioned all nylon for parachutes and other war uses, leaving only the unpopular cotton and rayon stockings. As people found ways to make-do, the 1940’s saw the first widespread use of man-made fibers.

Due to the limited materials, fashions of the era emphasized shorter skirts than ever before and short, blocky jackets. The most characteristic North American fashion trend from the 1930’s to the end of World War II was attention at the shoulder, with butterfly sleeves and banjo sleeves, and exaggerated shoulder pads for both men and women by the 1940’s. Another notable fashion trend for women in this period was the introduction of the ensemble, a matching dress or skirt and coat.

Despite the woes of the war, some big brands managed to jumpstart in the 1940’s. Coach was established in 1941. The Cato Corporation, Talbots and The Buckle Inc. were all started in the mid-1940’s. Hibbett Sports was founded in 1945, and Dick’s Sporting Goods in 1948. The most surprising was Fredericks of Hollywood, which would soon introduce the world’s first push-up bra.


Of the 229 companies currently listed in CSG’s database which were founded during this decade, 53 were founded prior to 1945, 31 were founded during 1945 and 145 were created after 1945 and the completion of the war.

Interestingly, one of the retailers founded during the war, in 1943 was Jo-Ann Stores Inc. Started at the height of wartime shortages and sacrifices and following an enduring and debilitating recession, a sewing and crafts store seemed to be one of the most appropriately needed types of retailers. With money and goods in short supply and families torn apart by a demanding military effort, what better resource than providing for creating and mending clothing and other fabrics at home?

Shortly after the war, in 1946, The Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) was created. Even as the military focused on peacetime activities, it remained greatly expanded as now an emerging world leader. Serving the growing domestic needs of servicemen and their families was seen as a vitally emerging role of the military.

General merchandising purveyors remained popular for a postwar population whose longtime suppressed thirst for essentials was finally about to be satiated. 1947 saw the birth of Spencer Gifts as a mail-order catalog retailer. This at a time when the country was about to experience a new found mobility and found comfort in the convenience of mail order as seen in the commanding popularity of the catalogs issued by Sears, Roebuck and Co., among others. Spencer’s first retail store wasn’t opened until 1963 during the growing popularity of malls to which the retailer became a fixture.

Regional discount variety chain Fred’s Inc. was also founded in 1947, as a single unit operator in Mississippi. In 1953 the company moved its headquarters to Memphis and grew easily until the advent of even larger footprints with names like Walmart, Kmart and Target came on the scene during the following decade.

Interestingly the late 40’s witnessed the birth of two future toy giants. Mattel Inc. was founded in 1945 and Toys “R” Us Inc. was founded just three years later. The rapidly approaching baby boom within a climate of startling prosperity and revolutionary plans for merchandising guaranteed astounding success for these toy industry pioneers.

Please enable imagesDRUG INDUSTRY

The 1940s were an eventful decade for perennial leading drug store chain Walgreens. After Charles Walgreen Sr. died in 1939, his son Charles R. Walgreen took over the company until his retirement in the early 1950s. The years were prosperous under Walgreen Jr. although they lacked the explosive expansion seen in the early part of the century. Other highlights include the opening of a non-profit drugstore in the Pentagon, and the acquisition of its first foreign property in Mexico.

The pharmacy in the 1940s was still very much a popular destination and social gathering place. Notable chains founded during this time include Sioux Falls, SD – based Lewis Drug in 1942 and Wadsworth, OH – based Ritzman Pharmacies in 1950. Kinray Inc., a large pharmaceutical wholesaler, was also founded during the decade in 1942.


The early part of this decade was dominated by the actions of war. The consolidated national effort behind World War II produced a sense of unity which was the result of a virtually unanimous determination to see the war through to a successful conclusion no matter what the personal cost. This produced a sense of sacrifice which included virtually anything necessary to promote a successful war effort. Thus many materials which would have been deemed essential to home building or repair were in very short supply as were many of the skilled people who were using their abilities in the war effort.

As the nation began to shift from a mode of war to one of peace, we began to see the founding of a number of dealers and distributors which reflected both the nation’s new focus as well as the dawn of a sense of national prosperity. Current regional retail stalwarts including ACO Inc., The Andersons and The A.G. Mauro Co. were founded in 1946, 1947 and 1949 respectively. Buying cooperatives Do It Best and True Value Company were founded in 1945 and 1946 respectively.

Long time national power Lowe’s was founded in 1946, based on a single family owned location which had been run by the women of the family as the men fought in the war. A second location was acquired in 1949. The first Lowe’s store focused on selling hardware and building materials but also offered dry goods, produce, groceries and supplies for horses.

Chain Store Guide’s current database includes 564 companies which were founded during the Fighting Forties. Of these, 125 companies were founded prior to 1945, 77 more were founded during 1945 and 362 were founded after 1945. The trend here is clear, as we emerged from the war effort and began to put the sacrifices behind us in a climate of oncoming prosperity, there was a clear need to finally repair and restore our homes. As the baby boom emerged, new home building became paramount. The aforementioned are all companies which have survived the tests of time for over six decades, including the ravages of the recent subprime crisis and the debilitating recession.


The war years of the 1940s posed a dichotomy for restaurant operators. The demand for food outside the home increased as more women joined the work force as the men were deployed, but labor shortages and rationing of both food and gasoline created difficult business conditions. The Chain Store Guide database includes only 33 new businesses founded between 1940 and 1945. Among those were Dairy Queen and Carl’s Jr., both opened prior to America’s entry into the war in late 1941. Even after the war, supplies remained tight for a time, while women returned to their own kitchens. However, by the end of the decade the economy was starting its post-war boom, and businesses of all sorts began to flourish. The CSG database shows that more than 60 restaurant companies came on the scene during the last four years of the 1940s, including such iconic brands as Baskin-Robbins, In-N-Out Burgers, and Long John Silver’s.


By the 1940s, the supermarket format as we have come to know it today was rounding into shape. Initially operated by many independents and small regional chains, the larger national operators began adding more stores. Their supermarket concept was a more refined one, adding a level of sophistication, class, and square footage missing from earlier predecessors. In the late 1930s, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company began consolidating its thousands of smaller stores into these larger supermarkets, and by 1940 its store count was reduced by half but its sales were up. Similar scenarios occurred across the larger chains, with store counts peaking in the late 1930s and consolidation in full effect into the 1940s. Throughout the decade, most national chains including Safeway and Kroger operated both modern concepts and ‘old-style’ stores leading to gradual consolidation. Ironically, both of Hawaii’s largest independent chains – Foodland and Times Supermarkets – were founded in the 1940s.

Food rationing was commonplace in the early 1940s because of the Second World War; by 1943 many common items with ration coupons included dried fruits, cheese, meat, butter and processed foods. According to some historians, many retailers welcomed rationing because they were already experiencing shortages of items due to rumors and panics.


Don’t forget to read our Company Snapshot follow up stories that will spotlight a company from each industry in this decade.  You can read them later this month on our NewsRoom page, or by signing up to our email newsletters.


Written By:
Apparel & Department – Natasha Perry
Drug & Grocery – Brian List
Home, Hardware, & Discount – Arthur Rosenberg
Restaurant – Linda Helman
Editing & Introduction – Matthew Werhner


Read all of our Chain Store Guide Through The Ages series: