Friday, August 23, 2013

Milton Glaser and Grand Union

Grand Union was once a national supermarket chain in the United States with stores all over the country. Several decades later if had gone through a steady decline until it was just a handful of stores in north-eastern United States. That came to an end at the beginning of this July this year when the remaining stores were rebranded and Grand Union was confined to history.

Why is this particular supermarket chain of interest to this blog? Because for a long time its identity was shaped by prominent New York graphic designer Milton Glaser. His cooperation with Grand Union started in the 1970s when then-owner James Goldsmith decided that his chain needed a new look. Rather than hiring one of many firms specialized in retail design, he contacted Glaser who was famous for designing the I Love New York logo, psychedelic posters, and magazines like New York and Esquire, but didn't have any professional experience in retail.

Logo variations (recreated).

The color red was introduced and seen throughout the stores; shop assistants would wear red buttons with the message "Ask Me. I'm here to help." Soon came a new logo with a prominent red dot. Glaser's work affected every visual aspect of the stores and was influenced by his culinary interests and fondness for European food markets. Signage would feature color photographs and gourmet features such as live seafood, cheese trays and salad bars were tried out. A flagship store in New York had a pear sculpture by Jordan Steckel at the front. On the other side of the spectrum, Glaser designed series of no-nonsense labels for the store's own-brand products.

Glaser continued working for Grand Union through the 80s and for some of the 90s. Although the company itself went into decline later on, Glaser's work is lauded by some as an early example of a more holistic approach to design that didn't limit itself to a single discipline.

More on this project:

In Grand Union's later years, the logo was replaced by one that was too horrible to be shown here. But Glaser's logo could still be seen in some places quite recently, as seen on these Flickr photos:

Grand Union doesn't live in Jersey anymore

Grand Union - Milford, PA

Hoosick Falls, NY Evening View Store Front View

Grand Union Supermarket Rutland,VT

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