RETAIL TRADE: Beauty at Work

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In San Leandro, Calif, last week, housewives were exploring a new kind of super market. They entered through pale lemon-yellow portals, found themselves surrounded by soothing pastel-green walls and bright, indirectly lighted murals of leaves and ferns. On the lightweight aluminum carts awaiting them, a printed directory told where everything could be found. On the way out, they were pleasantly surprised to find plenty of checkers who kept things moving. They were also surprised to discover how much they had bought; the light carts held 2½ times as much as the ordinary basket.

Their pleasant surprise was shared by Lucky Stores, Inc. and its burly, pink-faced president, Charles Crouch, 49. As an experiment he had hired New York's Raymond Loewy Associates to see if barnlike, depressing super markets could be imbued with some beauty. Crouch had an idea it would help lure in housewives. When he opened his $248,000 store, Crouch thought it was beautiful enough to gross $39,000 weekly. Last week, when he totted up the first four weeks' take, he found that he had underestimated its beauty; the gross was averaging $72,000.

West from Georgia. As the first patron of art in super markets, Charlie Crouch had come a long way from his poverty-ridden Augusta (Ga.) boyhood. "We used to work several months to make enough for a pair of shoes," he says, "and had them half-soled so many times your foot was an inch off the ground." Nourished on hard-won sow belly and corn pone, he swept up in cotton mills, ran errands, jerked sodas and sold papers until he caught the eye of Clarence Saunders, ex-Piggly Wiggly king. When Saunders went broke in 1931, Crouch was in Oakland, Calif, running 44 of his stores.

With other ex-Piggly Wigglers, Crouch scraped together $40,000 and bought six Saunders stores on the San Francisco Peninsula. By 1940, the chain had 21 links and an annual gross of $4,708,000. This year, with 30 stores, Lucky expects to gross $28 million.

Crouch and associates sold their interests in Lucky Stores in 1943 to Manhattan's Blair & Co., Inc. for $276,000 and 20% of the profits for five years. Crouch stayed as president on $46,000 salary. Crouch, who thinks that the grocery business is "one of the sloppiest in the world," had long dreamed of improving it with streamlined super markets. He now plans four more beautiful stores.