Anoka County history: How Cub Foods store originated

Everyone in Anoka County is familiar with the giant grocery stores known as Cub Foods.

Folklore has it that the chain originated in Fridley, and was started as a cooperative by a few housewives seeking to stretch their grocery budget.

Like most folklore, the story has its roots in truth, but got several facts wrong.

Wikipedia, while far from infallible, is more likely to be reliable than folklore.

It states that the chain was started by brothers Charles and Jack Hooley, along with their brother-in-law, Robert Thueson, in Stillwater in 1968.

The date surprised me because my own memories of the Fridley store seemed earlier than that.

I remember going with my parents to a warehouse in Fridley, right off University Avenue and Osborne Road.

It was very different from today’s Cub.

Shopping carts were the flat bed trolleys usually common in lumberyards and home improvement stores.

Lighting and heating were minimal.

Each shopper, upon entering, took a black crayon in order to mark the prices on the items he/she wanted to purchase.

There was a price for a case lot and a different price for individual cans.

Cans and dry food, like flour and oatmeal, were all that was available; no fresh produce, no frozen foods, and no dairy, at least at first.

Ugly metal warehouse shelves were stacked high with cardboard shipping boxes of foodstuffs.

The shoppers had to unpack the boxes, mark the prices, and carry out their groceries themselves.

CUB was an acronym for Consumers United for Buying and the whole point was to buy in quantity and share.

Savings were further increased because the no-frills warehouse and the do-it-yourself marking minimized the need for employees.

Here is where my memory and Wikipedia coalesce: Cub was the first,or one of the first, total discount food stores in the country.

According to the Cub website, “We trace our beginnings to an idea that redefined grocery retail in the Midwest.”

Cub grew and had five stores, when it was purchased by another Minnesota based grocer, Super Valu, in 1980.

After the purchase, Cub expanded to 83 stores across the country.

Because of mergers and various acquisitions and name changes, it’s complicated to determine how many Cub stores there have been.

Cub currently operates 69 stores in three states – Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, but the majority – 58 of 69 – are in the Twin Cities area.

They currently employ over 8,000 people.

Cub is credited with several significant innovations, including the first conveyor belt system for check-out.

In May of 2000, the first Minute Clinics were instituted in Twin Cities area Cub stores.

Cub’s president, Keith Wyche, is African-American and while probably not the first, he is uncommon in the industry.

Today’s Cub stores are clean, well-lit, and comfortable.

In addition to cans and dry food, they sell everything from potted geraniums to prescription drugs.

Editor’s note: Maria King is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society. 

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