Signs of New Orleans

1941 Schwegmann Airline


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With the introduction of the Giant Super Market concept, New Orleanians were offered a "Wal-mart" style store long before the big boxes existed. Schwegmann's offered not only groceries but fishing gear, sporting goods, bars, raw oyster bars, school uniforms, toys, fresh baked goods, liquor (including Old Piety & Burgundy), jewelry, clothing, and more. This diversity of products is illustrated above with the large liquor department adjacent to the fresh flower selection. Schwegmann’s ran special promotions such as the one pictured below introducing the local Dixiana Bakery’s Melt-O-Way Coffee Cake. A model sits atop a display case while a Schwegmann employee looks on. Paper grocery bags from Schwegmann’s routinely touted local politicians prior to elections; John G, his son John F, and his daughter-in-law Melinda held public offices.


Schwegmann invited all who hadn’t done so to “Follow the Crowds to the Store That Has the Lowest Prices in Town” -- its first suburban location (pictured here in 1941) at 2701 Airline at Labarre Road. Schwegmann’s offered a unique (to Metairie) experience where one could grab an oyster loaf and a beer (at Shopper’s Bar, Incorporated) to carry down the aisles while making groceries. The cavernous store was not air-conditioned when the photograph above was taken in 1950 but it was fronted with windows and topped with large roofing vents above an unfinished ceiling. Across the front was written, “LOWEST PRICES IN THE STATE OF LOUISIANA”. John Gerald Schwegmann. Jr. (below, left) and two unidentified men pose near some frozen pot pies at the Airline store in 1950. The original Schwegmann's Grocery and Bar was founded in 1869 at the corner of Piety and Burgundy streets in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.  The German-born founder's grandson, John, was born above the store in 1911.  He began working there full-time in 1939.  By 1946 he and his brothers Anthony, and Paul opened the first Schwegmann Brothers Giant Super Market on St. Claude Avenue near Elysian Fields. 

Schwegmann’s offered cut-rate prices on television sets and electrical appliances. It also had a large record department which offered “all kinds, all speeds, all makes” including rhythm and blues and “Hillbilly”. Schwegmann's was the first grocery store in New Orleans to offer self-service shopping (below). Customers could originally opt for full service or self-service at a 10 % discount.  The resulting lower prices made Schwegmann's very popular but also resulted in driving many smaller grocers out of business. At its peak, the chain included 46 locations, all of which were sold in 1996. (Courtesy of the Louisiana Digital Library.)