From Neighborhood Grocer to the Modern Supermarket

The Big Y: From Neighborhood Grocer to the Modern Supermarket

This exhibit tells the story of community development and business innovation and how this local grocery store impacted the food industry. Through photos and memorabilia, the story of its evolution unfolds and connects visitors to a piece of western MA history.

When you think about shopping local, do you think of Friendly’s Ice Cream? Yankee Candle? The Big Y?  All three of these successful businesses had their beginnings here in Western MA!

A new exhibit at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History traces the journey of Big Y Supermarkets from a small neighborhood grocery store to one of the largest independently owned supermarket chains in New England. The exhibit, entitled The Big Y: From Neighborhood Grocer to the Modern Supermarket, is now on permanent view at the Wood Museum. In close proximity are displays honoring other local success stories like Friendly’s Ice Cream and Smith & Wesson.

The Big Y exhibit details the founding of the company in 1936, when Paul D’Amour, a Wonder Bread salesman, decided to be his own boss. He purchased one of the stores on his route at the intersection of Chicopee and Meadow Streets in Chicopee’s Willimansett Village, known as the ‘Y’ section of town. It was there, at the “Y Cash Market,” that Paul, along with his brother, Gerry, began their legacy. At that time, orders were taken door-to-door and delivered later that afternoon, usually by bicycle. Using advances in food technology and a drive to exceed expectations, the brothers soon expanded their reach beyond that first location through the development of innovations like prepared and frozen foods, in-store pharmacies, electronic ordering systems and shopper-friendly store design and services.

Through a combination of photographs and memorabilia, the exhibit helps illustrate the growth of the company from these modest beginnings to becoming one of the largest independently-owned supermarket chains in New England, now employing over 10,000 associates at more than 60 stores across Massachusetts and Connecticut. Highlights of the exhibit include a replica of the original storefront at 726 ½ Chicopee Street along with a vintage shopping cart, delivery bicycle, and grocery items from Big Y’s earliest days.

This exhibit tells the story of community development and business innovation and how this local grocery store impacted the food industry.  Through photos and memorabilia, the story of its evolution unfolds and connects visitors to a piece of western MA history.

[Submitted by Matt Longhi]

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