In the 140 years since B.H. “Barney” Kroger opened his first grocery store in Cincinnati in 1883, a lot has changed. For one, the Kroger Co. has grown from a single downtown grocer selling brooms and canned goods into the largest supermarket chain in the country (and the nation’s third-largest retailer behind Walmart and Costco). Yet Kroger continues to call Cincinnati home, keeping its corporate headquarters at 1014 Vine St.
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1860: Barney Kroger born in Cincinnati
Barney Kroger grew up in a grocery family. His parents were German immigrants who had their own grocery store downtown, but it failed in 1873. Barney was forced to leave school at age 13 to work to support his family. After working as a driver for a tea company, he branched out on his own.
1883: Opened first store downtown
He was just 23 years when he combined the $372 of his life savings with $350 from his friend, B.A. Branagan, to rent a storefront at 66 E. Pearl St. (a former street between Second and Third, wiped out by Fort Washington Way).
The partners weathered early hardships. Once, Branagan tried to beat a train across the tracks – he made it, but his wagon of groceries didn’t. Their first store was ruined by a flood in 1884, so they opened another, and by 1890 had seven downtown locations listed in the city directory.
1902: Kroger name added to store
The store began as the Great Western Tea Co., with B.H. Kroger & Co. as proprietors. It would be 1902 before he finally put his own name on the store. It became the Kroger Grocery & Baking Co., then just Kroger – but never Kroger’s.
1900s: Kroger innovations
Kroger had a motto: “Be particular. Never sell anything you would not want yourself.” That guided him to new ideas. Kroger was the first to add a bakery, and the first to sell meat and groceries under one roof. Back then Kroger delivered groceries by horse-drawn wagon, and later Model Ts, to customers’ homes – a service that has re-emerged in a different form, with Kroger even experimenting with delivery by drones.
Kroger also made its own products, starting with Barney’s mother turning a surplus of cabbage into sauerkraut. Now the company makes more than 10,000 products, from Private Selections to Simple Truth organics and Big K soda.
1972: First electronic checkout
In 1972, the Kroger supermarket in Kenwood Plaza tested the first electronic checkout, using a bull’s-eye symbol before the switch to bar codes.
Today: 2,800 stores
Today, Kroger has nearly 2,800 supermarkets located in 35 states under a host of names, including Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Harris Teeter, Food 4 Less and Ralphs. There are 26 Kroger stores in Cincinnati.