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The History Of Local Grocers Ralphs, Vons, and Trader Joe's

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Photo by Dennis S Hurd on Flickr
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Ever wondered why Ralphs wasn't spelled with an apostrophe? Or how Trader Joe's got its kitschy tiki-themed motif? We sure have. And it turns out that Gideon Brower, an independent radio producer, did too.

Brower was featured in a segment on KCRW's Good Food this Saturday before their annual Good Food Pie Contest. He educated listeners on the little known history behind Ralphs, Trader Joe’s and Smart and Final supermarkets that we've come to rely on here in the southland as well as nationally.

It turns out that the new green grocer Urban Radish, which just opened up in the Arts District isn't the only one that viewed DTLA in an oportunistic way. Vons and Ralphs were started in Downtown L.A., too.

Ralphs was actually started on 6th and Spring -- now a nightlife hotbed -- by a man named George Albert Ralphs from San Bernardino, hence the lack of punctuation. Vons, on the other hand, was an abbreviation for a complicated Danish immigrant's full name. It changed hands a few times, and throughout its various iterations an obscure apostrophe was added and then dropped again. Smart & Final isn't some random adjectives cobbled together; those are in fact the two owners names as well.

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Perhaps our favorite story is that of Trader Joe's. (Truthfully, Trader Joe's is our favorite everything.) The owner, Joe Coulombe, started the chain in 1958. Trader Joe's was actually first a convenience store competitor to 7-11 called Pronto Markets, but then the owner decided to give the nautical/island tiki theme in order to separate it from the rest. He also has the power structure of TJ's set up so that the employees are categorized by names like "captain" and "crew member." Cute.

You can listen to the full segment below.

Related:
Where To Shop Now That Beloved WeHo Trader Joe's Is Closing
Useless LA Trivia: No Apostrophe in Ralphs