|Headquarters||Buena Park, California|
|Products||groceries, clothing, footwear, housewares, sporting goods, hardware, toys, electronics|
Gemco was an American chain of membership department stores that was owned by San Leandro-based Lucky Stores, a California supermarket company which eventually became part of Albertsons. Gemco operated from 1959 until closing in late 1986. A number of the west coast stores were sold to Target which fueled their entry into California. Gemco had a version called Memco, also owned by Lucky Stores, that operated stores in the Chicago and Washington, D.C. areas.
Gemco was first established in Anaheim, California in October 1959. A year later, the company was purchased by Lucky Stores, which added the supermarket element and expanded Gemco into a chain. Business and profitability continued to be healthy for over 20 years until a series of unsuccessful leveraged takeover attempts from other companies were made on its parent company, Lucky Stores. Lucky, to avoid such hostile takeover attempts, eventually decided it was best to liquidate Gemco entirely. This liquidation occurred from September 1986 to November 1986. Target reopened in most of the former Gemco locations by the fall of 1987, having remodeled many of Gemco's former prime business locations into Target's bright red-and-white trade dress.
Name, colors and logo
"GEMCO" never was an acronym, despite rumors ("Government Employees' Merchandising Company," etc. probably stemming from a similar store named Fedco in southern California) to the contrary. The letters were simply an easily pronounced and remembered name. Brown (with tan accents) was Gemco's original main exterior background color, and the letters "GEMCO" were originally in red. An early 1980s redesign changed the chain's main exterior background color to blue (with light blue accenting), and its letter coloring in its logo to white (adding a yellow diamond on top of the "M"). The name may also be associated with the jewelry-camera concessionaire, Gem Distributing Company, which was based in Long Beach and which began operations during WWII by selling jewelry, and engagement rings in particular, to sailors on leave. A few of Gem's earliest employees were transferred to Gemco locations near Long Beach.
Offerings and innovations
An early example of what would become a hypermarket, Gemco offered one-stop shopping for everything from garden supplies to groceries, and regular department store offerings as well. Its concessionaires included gasoline (located outside and away from the front entrance) and jewelry. One innovation the store offered - found nowhere else at the time - was the storing and delivery of already purchased groceries when the member was finished shopping the rest of the store. A numbered plastic card was placed on the cart(s) and its match was given to the customer. When the member was done shopping and ready to leave the premises, the member merely needed to drive to the side of the store where the plastic card was given to the security guard. The guard would call for a courtesy clerk to deliver the groceries, and the clerk would load them into the member's vehicle. Niceties such as this won many new members to Gemco, and created repeat business.
Gemco was a preferred employer in many of the locations in which it did business. Unlike may other "discount" chains (e.g. Payless) Gemco employed union members of the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers).
Gemco also offered a credit department to help increase sales. It was particularly busy each year during the Christmas shopping period.
On a trial basis, a few Gemco stores offered free babysitting while an adult was shopping in the store. The adult would drop off the child in the designated area of the store and would be given a ticket with a number on it. When done shopping they would give the cashier the ticket, who in return called the babysitting dept and a clerk would bring the child out to the parent. The parent could also pick the child up directly as well. After about one year of trial Gemco ceased operation of this trial. California law required a caregiver in a commercial operation to be licensed and insured as a daycare.
The East Coast stores, located in the Washington, D.C., area, were called Memco instead of Gemco to avoid confusion with an already existing area chain called GEM. Memco stores had a blue color scheme on its walls and signage. Memco honored Gemco membership cards, and vice versa.
Memco entered the Washington, DC market in 1969 with 100,000-square-foot (9,300 m2) stores on Little River Turnpike at Braddock Road in Annandale, Virginia and on Allentown Road in Camp Springs, Maryland. When the chain announced its exit from the market in December 1982, there were 13 stores (including one in Richmond, Virginia, one in Reston, Virginia, and two in the Baltimore area), two of which had opened just two months earlier, and a 14th store under construction in Burke, Virginia (a suburb of Washington DC). The closings idled 1,200 retail workers. All of those locations were converted to Bradlees upon Gemco's closing. Several of the former locations are currently open as Home Depot or Kmart. Home Depot near Fairfax Circle in Fairfax, Virginia used to be a Memco.
Memco also had stores in other locations, for example one in in Arlington Hts. IL (a suburb of Chicago, IL). That particular store opened in the early to mid 1970's. Once it closed it became a Eagle food grocery store. As of 2015 this store is now a Target store.
The fictitious town of Gemco, California is located in Van Nuys, CA near Woodman Avenue and Saticoy Street. It appeared on a map in the 1980s, possibly as a copyright trap, and is now in many mapping databases. It actually was the shorthand name used by the Southern Pacific Railroad to refer to the General Motors Assembly Plant located in Van Nuys.
- "Supermarket, Department Store to 'Wed'". Los Angeles Times. December 29, 1960. p. B10. (subscription required (. )) Alternate Link via ProQuest.
- Gellene, Denise (October 10, 1986). "Lucky to Close Gemco, Sell Most Stores to Dayton Hudson". Los Angeles Times.
- "Chain to Open One-Stop Stores Here". Washington Post, Times Herald. December 19, 1969. p. D8. (subscription required (. )) Alternate Link via ProQuest.
- Knight, Jerry (December 28, 1982). "Washington-Area Memco Stores to Shut in January: Area Memco Stores to Close Doors, Idling 2,000". Washington Post. p. A1. (subscription required (. )) Alternate Link via ProQuest.
- Pyatt, Rudolph A., Jr. (January 12, 1983). "With Memco Leaving, Competition Heats Up: With Memco Stores Closing, Retail Competition Heats Up". Washington Post. p. F1. (subscription required (. )) Alternate Link via ProQuest.
- Pyatt, Rudolph A., Jr. (January 5, 1983). "Retailers Intensify Fight Here: Memco Closings May Show Larger D.C. Area Problem". Washington Post. p. D1. (subscription required (. )) Alternate Link via ProQuest.
- "Bradlees to expand in D.C.". Nashua Telegraph 4 (254). December 28, 1982. p. 7.
- Gemco Department Stores nostalgic website
- Lucky Stores entry at Groceteria
- DCGrocery MSN List 2002 photograph of vacant Gemco store, Camp Springs, Md., accessed Aug 29, 2008
- DCGrocery MSN List 2007 photograph of vacant Gemco store, Camp Springs, Md., accessed Aug 29, 2008
- "1973 Chicago area Memco Ad Insert". Chicago Tribune. March 25, 1973. pp. 17–20, Section 11.