Posted on 40 Comments

Unity-Frankford Grocers

There was a time when you could not walk down the street in almost any neighborhood in Philadelphia without seeing a Unity-Frankford Grocery store sign.  Before the mega food store chains, mom and pop ruled the grocery business.  The Unity-Frankford Grocers was an association of these stores.  They benefited from group buying and established the Unity brand as unique to those little businesses.

Their warehouse, where several of my ancestors worked, was down on Griscom Street at Unity Street.  You can still see the Frankford Grocery sign up at the top of the building.  It later moved down to Erie Avenue.

Those Unity-Frankford signs have become collectors items over the years and people are looking to catalog where they can still be seen.

We checked, there are no signs at:

  • Mascher and Spencer
  • Torresdale and Magee, there could be one under the Grocery Queen awning, but we didn’t get too close to tell
  • Olney and Mascher or 2nd

Here are the ones that we’ve found

222 Hartel Ave:

Unity-Frankford Sign closeup 222 Hartel Ave

8344 Torresdale Ave:

29th and Jefferson:

photo credit: Chris_In_Philly_’08

40 thoughts on “Unity-Frankford Grocers

  1. Is there a way fopr me to get a hi-res photo of 222 Hartel?

  2. You can click on the second image of 222 Hartel and it will show up HI-RES. I guess it’s just the way I posted the first image that it uploaded small.

  3. Oh no I was wrong. Here’s the original for the first one

    Hartel A

    second one:

  4. Thanks!!!

  5. i grew up eating the unity brand it was good. can anyone remember the coalyards near church st or oakland st

  6. I remember the store at the crossroads in the middle of Dublin, PA had one of these signs. That part of Bucks Co was the back end of beyond way back when, but I guess it was worth the drive into the city once a week for the shop owners.

  7. In the 1950’s-60’s, I lived next to Oskian’s Unity-Frankford Store, located at the N/W corner of Hawthorne & Fanshawe Streets in Mayfair. I still remember watching the Unity-Frankford delivery truck pull up at the side of the store. The driver set up long metal rollers from the truck to the store, and slid cartons of groceries to the waiting arms of old Mr. Oskian. The old couple operating the store, provided customers with merchandise on credit, which at the time was called “Buying on the Eye.” They didn’t have a candy counter or ice cream fountain there, but those were readily available at some of the other corner stores, e.g. Pat’s (later Feeney’s) at Hawthorne and Magee, Marty’s at Battersby & Fanshawe, Feiner’s Drug Store at Battersby & Unruh, and especially Conny’s at Hawthorne & Unruh Streets. It was a great place and a great time to be a kid. Later in the mid-60’s the store was purchased by the Ettling family. I belive Ted, the new owner, broke away from the Unity-Frankford supplier, as the old sign was taken down. Ted operated the store for several years, with greater emphasis as a deli and butcher shop. However, he could not compete with the large food chains such as Food Fair, Acme, A&P, and Penn Fruit; who drove the small mom & pop stores out of business. Today, there is still a viable old-fashioned grocery store located at Battersby & Magee Streets. Back in the 50’s & 60’s it was Nap’s Deli. I was pleasantly surprised recently, walking into the store for some hoagies. The interior is practically unchanged in appearance, and it feels as if I had entered a time machine. All that was missing were the old gumball machines, which in days of old, had been positioned outside and were the object of many a slug.

  8. I grew up in frankford on Harrison street, and left the area in 1973…
    I get all nostalgic looking at photos of what is left…
    I worked as a grocery boy at the Harrison Quick Shop for about 5 years in 1964 through 1969. Gus Matus was the owner, Irma was his wife. Dennis Grassey worked there as well. So did Daniel Grassey, his brother. Anybody remember them?

    There was also a store at Foulkrod and Large, and a little shop we called Doris’ place, who sold firecrackers, sodas, and candy.

    Schwartzes Pharmacy was on the opposit corner of harrison and large…he had a soda fountain as well and sold pimple balls and balsa airplanes as well as other junk as well…

    Remember Schwartzy?!!!

  9. My father and grandfather owned Unity Frankford grocery stores. Cottman Ave, Van Kirk and Oakland and Rosalie street. Sorry no pix. Greatest memories of a family owned business. Wish it still existed.

  10. According family history my great uncle William Radcliffe of Frankford was an original owner of the chain. He started out selling fruits and vegetables in a horse driven wagon–these were called hucksters. Does anyone have information regarding this?

  11. I wonder if the Historical Society of Frankford has anything. Seems a natural for them. I had 2 grandfathers and an uncle who worked for them at the big warehouse. First down on Griscom Street then they moved over to Erie Avenue.

    I grew up in Bridesburg at the corner of Pratt and Thompson across from Reichert’s grocery which was a Unity-Frankford. I was the one who had to go to the store and I did almost every day. They kept account in a book and you only had to pay once a week on pay day.

    The egg man came in the middle of the night waking us up some nights. They had a real butcher who would cut your steaks from a side a beef. Old Mr. Reichert used to cut his butter down into one pound slabs from a huge block. It wasn’t all that long ago.

  12. Does anyone know where that old Phrmacy is that has the tile floor in the front of the sotre that says “Drugs for Sale?”

  13. glaychoc, could you possibly be referring to the Health Fair at Overington and Frankford?

  14. I’ll check it out. Thanks.

  15. My Great-Grandfather, David Johnston, was an Irish immigrant. He owned the Unity Frankford store at the corner of 30th and Girard.

  16. I grew up in Bucks County. There was a Unity Frankford store in Fountainville at the intersection of Ferry Road & Rt 313. The Fountainville post office was housed in the grocery store. That’s where we got our mail. Local farmers always came in there to buy corncob pipes, tobacco, etc. Closed in the Mid 70’s.

    There was another Unity Frankford in Tradesville. Intersection of Bristol Rd and Lower State Rd. Early 70’s it was torn down and Hensler’s Mobil was put up. There was one more Unity Frankford in Central Bucks County. Anybody know where it was? I used to know, but now I can’t quite place it & it’s driving me crazy!

    Geoff, you said, “That part of Bucks Co was the back end of beyond way back when…”

    How true! We moved from Wyndmoor (near Chestnut Hill) to Central Bucks in 1959. Dublin may as well have been a midwest farm town back then. Now it looks like the suburbs. Housing developments everywhere. I don’t recall a Unity Frankford at the crossroads in Dublin, though. You may be thinking of further east on 313 at Ferry Rd (Fountainville) There’a hardware store at that intersection in Dublin, though. Maybe that was it I’ll ceck it out. Do you remember Goldy’s Diner?

    PS: Jim, thanks for your site!

  17. My Great-Grandfather, Harry Beneke, owned a grocery (may have been called ‘Ben’s’) at 28th and Jefferson until 1945. In his obit, it is listed that he was a member of the Frankford Grocers Association. Does being a member mean that he would have had a sign like that? I know there were 2 apartments above the store where my Great-Grandparents and Grandparents lived for a while. If anyone has any information or photos of it, I would absolutely love it. Thanks!

  18. Erin, are you sure it wasn’t at 29th and Jefferson, cause there’s a picture of that store at the bottom of our post up above.

  19. Is there anyone who remembers the Unity- Frankford store at 8721 Frankford Ave>? It was my great uncle’s and I’d like to find a picture or two. thanks

  20. We’re all out of pictures. I’d like to see more around the net. I’m actually suprised there isn’t a Frankford-Unity dedicated website.


  22. When the Frankford and Quaker Grocery Companies merged they launched the Shop N Bag chain (the very same chain that would merge with Thriftway in the 1990s) so that its cooperative members could open larger supermarkets and many old Unity-Frankford store owners transitioned to these larger stores. The Unity brand products co-exhisted in Shop N Bags with the Shop N Bag private Label and Topco’s Food Club brand Unity survived as a brand untile sometime in the late 70s early 80s.

  23. Great info werememberretail. I’m continually amazed how the Unity-Frankford Grocers group influenced the Philadelphia area and how so many people were a part of it.

  24. Outside Philadelphia, the Unity Frankford stores often had post offices as a part of the the operation. I grew up in Bucks County and the store in Lahaska was run by a local by the name of Bob Johnson. His sister was the Postmistress. They gave credit, and stocked everything from candy (in a glass case) to 22 caliber bullets.
    I am writing a history of this area and would like to know of anyone who may have photos of these stores.

  25. Good comment alexbay. This has become a nice chain of infomational comments.

  26. Hi All, great postings. I have one of these signs that originated from a store on Devereaux Stret (unsure where), Anyone have any ideas where exactly that store was located?

  27. Devereaux goes a long way. You could try asking on our message board:

  28. Hey Dutchman……..

    My father drove for Frankford Unity back in the 60’s before having his own store in North Philly (no…it was’nt a Unity Store)…….but the “other Unity Store” you’re trying to figure out was located up in Ottsville……off of old Easton Road. I pass the old ones in Tradesville and Fountainville ALL THE TIME (I live in Upper Horsham/Lower Gywnedd border)…….I’m 51 and grew up with Frankford Unity. I hope this helps!!!!!

  29. Why did they go under, stores lie wawa seem to make it even with the big chain store

  30. My mother grew up behind and above her parent’s store (Sam’s) at the corner of York and Orianna Street from 1924 till 1944 when her mother sold the store. The buidling was gone when I went to see it in the early 70’s.

    My mother tells the story of the first supermarket at Front Street that opened. Customers (many of whom owed my grandfather money for groceries he “sold” on credit) would pass his store to go to the supermaket.

    I notice in ths blog the stores are referred to as “Unity Frankford”. I have some letters from my grandfather – his letterhead says “A Frankford Unity Store”

  31. Unity Frankford did not go under, they evolved, First in the 1960s to compete with the larger supermarkets in the area (Acme, Penn Fruit Food Fair etc.) some members migrated to larger stores and began using a new trade name within U-F (By this time called Frankford/Quaker) called Shop N Bag, ultimately the Shop N Bags came to dominate U-F business as both established and new co-op members began opening larger regionally concentrated supermarkets in shopping centers (some taking over former chain stores) the Shop N Bags like their traditional U-F neighborhood store counterparts carried the Unity brand private label ( this continued well into the late 70s if not even later) The Shop N Bags grew rapidly as a result of the 1970’s price wars that had claimed Penn Fruit, and A&P as victims (though A&P hangs on to this day as Superfresh) and Food Fair’s troubles. byn 1982 there were about 70 Shop N Bags, however other co-ops and Independent groups some with far more advanced store development plans, such as Thriftway, Shoprite, and IGA came into Philly taking many longtime Unity-Frankford/Frankford-Quaker/Shop N Bag Members with them in 1985 because of the decreased volume due to member defections, Frankford-Quaker sold out to Fleming Foods, which supplied Thriftway stores. Though the old warehouse in North Philly was phased out Fleming kept the Shop N Bag name presumably because of it connection to the old unity frankford stores and its history as an authentic “Philadelphia” brand. Fleming then merged the advertising of Thriftway and Shop N Bag in the 90s however because of big name chain competitors opening newer larger stores, Many Thriftway/Shop N Bag retailers either closed or sold out. in 1996 90 stores operated under either name, a few years later about 50, by 2003 only 30 or so, and as of 2011 about 25 or so remain. Fleming’s bankruptcy played a role in this as well numerous labor problems at Fleming’s unionized warehouses encouraged many retailers to switch suppliers, as did cannibalization between Thriftway and Shop N Bag stores. the renmant of Shop N Bags still open today are supplied by a New Jersey distributor with no ties to the original Unity/Frankford/Quaker/ Fleming group. Wawa is successful because it’s a trendsetter in the convenience store industry, they are one of the “big” regional players that rivals aim to emulate.

  32. Wow that is some serious history werememberretail!

  33. What about the store that was in Rockledge in 1967 at San Diego avenue.? owned by Joseph Bach

  34. My great Uncle and Aunt, the McWilliams from N. Ireland, had a Frankfort-Unity store. I have a picture of them with a 265 on it. Anyone know the address? It was just west of “the Boulevard” as we came in from the south (Upper Darby). Help?

  35. Send it to us Bill

  36. Hey, just checking in to thank you for this post, it’s really cool. I was looking up what it (the sign meant) meant since I lived above the 222 Hartel store in the early 2000’s. I’m so excited to find out how relevant the place is to Philly’s history!

  37. The Unity-Frankford corner store in Bridesburg was a daily part of my life growing up. Wish we had more of the history of the many stores throughout the area.

  38. There was one in Lawncrest on Devereaux & Oakley St., a half a block from St. William’s Church & school. We called it “George’s” because of the old man that ran the place.

  39. Our Dad, a NI immigrant, had a UF store at 6662 Germantown Ave and Westview Street for many years. It was across from the Vernon Terminal, trolley barn or shop. Hence it was called Vernon Terminal Market. My brother and I worked there as kids. I always felt a creepy sensation when in the dark basement breaking up cardboard. A British soldiers grave was later discovered in that basement upon demolition of the building. That corner is now empty.

  40. Corner Bridge & James Streets, Frankford. My grandparents rented the space to Mr. Oeschlager!

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