This week, as we all "make groceries" for Thanksgiving, think back to the original New Orleans grocery store chain — Schwegmann Giant Super Markets. John Garret Schwegmann, a German immigrant, opened his first store in Bywater around 1869. The store he opened in 1891, at Piety and Burgundy streets, became a cornerstone of the family's legacy in New Orleans and the first free-standing Schwegmann's supermarket.
His sons and grandsons followed him into the business — most notably John Gerald Schwegmann, who built his first "giant" store at St. Claude and Elysian Fields avenues in 1946. The family's Airline Highway store opened in 1950, followed quickly by a mammoth grocery on Old Gentilly Road in eastern New Orleans. You could get almost anything at a Schwegmann's store, which truly defined one-stop shopping by offering customers banking, a pharmacy, a jewelry store and even a bar on site.
John Gerald Schwegmann, who died in 1995, was known for his outspoken columns in his newspaper ads, his grocery bag endorsements of political candidates, and for waging war on behalf of consumers — first as a grocer who fought price-fixing in the dairy industry and later as a state lawmaker and Public Service Commission (PSC) member. His son, John F. Schwegmann, also served on the PSC for many years and took the reins of the company in 1979. After two decades of aggressive expansion, the supermarket chain was sold to out-of-state investors in 1997 and closed soon after.