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Capital Region Scrapbook: Super innovations (with photo gallery)

Capital Region Scrapbook: Super innovations (with photo gallery)

Electronic checkout counters, sunlamps on fruits and vegetables and a self-service meat department w

Electronic checkout counters, sunlamps on fruits and vegetables and a self-service meat department were “Original” ideas for food shopping in 1952.

That’s why managers at Original Super Market were anxious for shoppers to try their new Schenectady store. Original’s third market in the city, at 1478 State St. opposite Fehr Avenue, opened to great fanfare on Thursday, Feb. 28, 1952, 59 years ago today.

The place, painted forest green and chartreuse, was supposed to be a marvel. The 40,000-square-foot steel and cement building was fireproof and heated by the largest natural-gas furnace in the area. The parking lot could accommodate 500 cars.

“Nearly a mile of shelf space is assembled over the 7,500 feet of terrazzo flooring,” the Original public-relations guys crowed. “Overhead, 5,000 feet of special slim-line fluorescent lights insure accurate and easy selection of articles.”

One of the innovations was the bank of “SpeeDee” electronic checkout counters. Oval in design, conveyor belts brought packages of Borax cleanser, Zwieback bread and Donald Duck orange juice from cart to clerk. The Original guys also put two meat markets in their store. Custom cuts would be sold at the full-service counter; self-service coolers would contain meats wrapped in cellophane and marked with weight, price per pound and price.

New hires stocked shelves and cashed out customers. Other Original attendants parked cars and carried packages to trunks and back seats.

To ensure a giant crowd for opening day, Original hired Laurie Anders. The 30-year-old singing cowgirl made appearances on “The Ken Murray Show” during the early 1950s. She even began a fad with her oft-quoted line, “I love the wi-i-i-ide open spaces!”

Anders showed up at the store in full cowgirl costume; she also visited Schenectady’s Sunnyview Hospital. Kids received autographs and Laurie dolls, complete with cowgirl hat.

Owner Max Cohn of Ballston Lake splurged and advertised even more attractions. The supermarket planned to give away 500 prizes, including a Schwinn bicycle, a basket full of groceries, Schick electric razors, General Electric clocks and a year’s supply of Gold Medal flour.

Max didn’t want to take chances. Supermarkets were a competitive business during the 1950s, and stores like Willowbrook in Glenville, Pleasant Valley on Broadway, Sinkora’s on Crane Street and Central Markets — ancestor to the Price Chopper chain — were all trying to keep customers away from Cohn and his “wi-i-i-ide open spaces.”

Efforts by rivals

The Central guys played especially tough during Original’s big week; they asked shoppers to bring in labels from “Sweet Life” and “Jesso” products, and pick up a quarter-cent for each one. The person or organization that brought in the most labels would have a shot at winning a $370 freezer, a $350 fur cape stole and other prizes that included table radios, coffee makers and cookbooks.

Max didn’t have to worry; hundreds showed up for his party. There probably were more at the other Original stores, Broadway at Hamilton and Broadway at Vischer Avenue.

Anders, whose career peaked with the 1953 cult Western “The Marshal’s Daughter” — in which she played the dual role of daughter and masked rider “El Coyote” — had stopped acting by the end of the decade. She died in 1992 at age 70.

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