On a warm summer morning in July 1951, two boyishly enthusiastic young men wrote the stirring first paragraph of an ongoing and endlessly appetizing story, as they cut the ribbon on the very first Gelson’s supermarket. The Burbank store may have been distant in miles but not in spirit from Eugene and Bernie Gelson’s parents’ Iowa grocery store, where the boys learned the importance of exemplary customer service — which to them meant giving every last person who walked in the door the very best in quality, selection, and value.
Of course, the brothers’ success was not an overnight one. The Gelson brothers had moved to Los Angeles with Mom and Dad 14 years earlier and helped to run a store in Garvey, before purchasing a small market of their own in the San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately for their first “practice Gelson’s,” the 1200, 5000, and 8,000 square-foot spaces could not contain Eugene and Bernie’s big dreams. Friends and family knew, it was only a matter of time before they would open their first bona fide supermarket: as it turned out, the 25,000 square foot marvel in Burbank.
Designed by Stiles Clements, the shiny new Gelson’s Market was modernistic in design and had the air of a building set in a tropic land. Inside, from roof to floor, the market’s front had a glassed instead of a cement front, an industry first. It was completely air-conditioned and heated. Huge circulating fans and giant heaters guaranteed a complete circulation of clean, fresh air of proper temperature every five minutes. Specially designed fixtures in all departments afforded ample display of the peerless selection of items which Gelson’s handled.
Spacious aisles — which would become a Gelson’s hallmark — and large shopping carts were available to make shoppers’ selection of merchandise a pleasure. The first Gelson’s also set the stage for what would become Gelson’s tradition of exemplary meat and seafood. The store had an ultra-modern, self-service Meat Department, with stainless steel and enamel cases running the building’s full length. Behind these cases, in full view of the customers — when you’ve got it, flaunt it! — was the meat cutting and wrapping room.
As it turned out, the bar Eugene and Bernie raised in 1951 would, by virtue of their vision, be raised again and again, store after store, for the next 60 years and beyond. To paraphrase Walt Disney, who boasted that his new theme park would continue to grow “as long as there is imagination left in the world,” Gelson’s will continue to replenish its aisles with the freshest advancements in the industry as long as there are customers who appreciate the best experience a supermarket has to offer.