The uncovering of the old Save Mart Supermarket sign at the Bear Creek Galleria shopping center has brought back many memories to the Courthouse Museum Facebook followers.
But little did they know that this site housed the very first Save Mart in Merced.
The Bear Creek Galleria was originally known as the Food Banks shopping center. Built in 1960, the shopping center was located at G Street and E North Bear Creek Drive.
Food Banks Inc. was founded with one store in Fresno in 1948. Loren McFarland Sr. was the company's president and decided to sell stock to his employees in December 1954. As a result, its employees owned 97 percent of the company.
When it opened on May 5, 1960, the Merced location was the 23rd store.
During its three-day grand opening, many raffle prizes were offered to lure customers. In 1960, Merced, with a population a little more than 20,000, had 30-plus grocery stores and meat markets.
There was a great competition for business and Food Banks offered special pricing to cultivate its clientele. During the grand opening celebration, USDA choice beef chuck roast was 39 cents a pound and bananas were 3 pounds for 29 cents.
The store had 18,000 square feet with check stands in two separate areas.
Gerald Burton was the manager. He had managed the Food Banks store in Dos Palos prior to moving to the Merced outlet.
The store also housed the Koop Coffee Shop and Koop Delicatessen.
Other tenants in the new shopping center included Sperry and Hutchinson Company's first Merced Redemption center, Mademoiselle Beauty Saloon, Drake Drug Store and Tony's Barber Shop.
Food Banks at the G Street location did not last long. According to the 1963 Polk's Merced City Directory, Save Mart Supermarket occupied the Food Banks' building.
This was the very first Save Mart location in Merced although this Central Valley-based grocery chain opened its first store in Modesto in 1952. Save Mart did have a store in Atwater prior to its expansion to Merced.
It is unclear exactly when Save Mart opened its doors at the Food Banks shopping center; however, research shows it was between 1962 and 1963. Over the next several decades, Save Mart opened several other stores in Merced. The G Street location was closed in 1987.
Food Banks shopping center was renamed College Center shopping center in 1964. The shopping center's name was changed again to the Bear Creek Galleria.
Other tenants in the shopping center have come and gone, too. Some of the noticeable ones included Taylor's Fair (a variety store) and Our Store (toys and hobbies).
As we observe the renovation of this 52-year-old building and discover the old Save Mart sign, it is an opportunity to learn about the history of this shopping center.
There is also a side history to the renovation project.
We know it all began with the roadwork at the G Street Bridge intersection months ago. Back in 1964 and 1965, there was construction at the same location.
The two-lane traffic G Street Bridge was expanded and replaced with four-lanes and a center divider.
For more information about the business history of Merced in the 1950s and 1960s, please stop by the Museum Store and purchase a copy of "Bik's Picks: Midcentury Merced Revisited" by Michael Bik. While you are at the museum, do not forget to visit our "Following the Water: A History of Merced County Irrigation" exhibit which will close on Sept. 30.
Sarah Lim writes the Museum Notes column.