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From Grand Central Market to Supermarket

The Los Angeles Jewish Grocer

Cate Roman, Author

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The Gelson Brothers

By the 1950s, the transition from small individual specialty markets to supermarkets was largely complete, making room for the next generation of grocers. Eugene and Bernie Gelson opened the very first Gelson's Market on Victory Blvd and Hollywood Way in Burbank in July, 1951. 

The brothers parents were Russian immigrants who settled in Sioux City, Iowa, before making their way west in 1937. Bringing their marketing experience with them, the family settled in Monterey Park. It is likely the brothers learned the market business from their parents who ran a grocery store in Iowa. Before opening the first Gelson's supermarket, the brothers helped their parents run the family's Garvey grocery store.

Not only did the new supermarket help fulfill the needs of a growing Los Angeles suburb, but the brothers filled a 25,000 square foot modern market with the very best in quality, selection, and value. Designed by Stiles Clements, the market's parking-lot oriented exterior had a glassed front, which was unique to supermarket design. Responding to the heat of the San Fernando Valley, the market was fully air-conditioned with large circulating fans. 

The market had spacious aisles, large shopping carts, and an ultra-modern, self-service meat department. These innovations and the emphasis on exemplary customer service laid the groundwork for a very successful business model.

In 1960, the brothers opened a second location in Encino. As the county's population continued to grow, the Gelson's markets were part of the migration to the suburbs, the sprawl that would make greater Los Angeles the bellwether metropolis of the 20th century.

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