Hamady Sacks and Yankee Hats
Column for February 20, 2004

When I was growing up on Flint's northeast side in the 1960s, the main commercial shopping area in the neighborhood was on Richfield Road. Two local chain stores were located at the corner of Richfield and Center Roads. The Hamady Bros supermarket was built around 1958 and the Yankee Store (selling general merchandise) opened next to the Hamady Bros store a couple of years later. Both Hamady and Yankee were very successful and opened stores outside the Flint area. Hamady Bros. was a Flint fixture for 80 years. It began as a single small store near the Buick factory in 1911 on Industrial Avenue.

It was founded by two Lebanese immigrant cousins, Michael and Kamol Hamady. They pioneered self-service shopping for practical reasons-they knew little English at that time. At a time when customers usually asked the clerk for their groceries who would then pick them up for customers from the shelves, the Hamady "brothers" (they called themselves brothers to limit customer confusion over their relationship) laid out their products for the customers to select themselves and then give the items to the clerk to complete the transaction.


As Flint's population grew with the success of Buick automobiles, the Hamadys prospered themselves. Their early deliveries were by horse and buggy and they did a lucrative business with local farmers. The Hamady reputation was formed early on by offering excellent customer service combined with community involvement. By 1918, Hamady Bros. had grown to 18 stores throughout Flint. The chain survived the Great Depression and competition from national chains such as A&P. Hamady's reputation was further enhanced during the 1937 Sit-Down Strike by providing food to the strikers. Hamady's influence on Flint area shoppers was so great that older Flint shoppers still refer to paper grocery bags as "Hamady sacks".

The forward-thinking Michael Hamady noticed the importance of automobiles and in the 1940s began building larger supermarkets with plenty of adjacent parking spaces with the neon signs proudly saying HAMADY BROS. AUTOMOBILE SHOPPERS FOOD MARKET. Michael's son Robert took over the company in 1954 who oversaw the expansion of Hamady Bros. in the 1950s and 60s into the suburbs and the construction of a large distribution warehouse on S. Dort Hwy. Robert Hamady died in 1967. Kamol Hamady died in 1968 and Michael Hamady in 1969. Jack A. Hamady (Michael's nephew) became Hamady president in 1967.





The 1970s brought about increased competition from A&P, Kroger and K-Mart Foods. But it was the addition of Meijer into the Flint area marketplace in 1972 which led the Hamady family to sell out in 1974 to Durant Enterprises, led by Alex Dandy. Dandy expanded Hamady into other cities by buying the Saginaw-based Vescio supermarkets and purchasing closed Kroger stores in the Grand Rapids area among other expansions and acquisitions. But additional competition (including a new competitor-former Hamady executive Al Kessel who opened Kessel Food Markets in former Kroger locations) and financial setbacks shrunk the Hamady chain which was driven into bankruptcy in 1988. A Hamady supplier, M&B Distributing led by James McColgan, took control of the Hamady chain which received additional financing to keep it going. But that was well as concessions by Hamady employees were not enough as the Hamady chain closed for good on August 30, 1991. The more desirable locations were picked up by Kessel, including the Richfield Road location in my old neighborhood. That's the Hamady story.

The Yankee Store story is much shorter, but very successful. Yankee was founded in 1948 in downtown Flint as U.S. Surplus Sales by partners Joseph Megdell and Wilbert Roberts. They started out together in a scrap metal business on N. Dort Hwy. before opening the army surplus store and renamed the new retailing venture Yankee Stores. Advertising heavily and capitalizing on what Megdell called a post-war hunger for merchandise, the Yankee Stores would expand into 21 stores within 19 years! Besides Flint, Yankee Stores were located in Davison, Saginaw, Bay City, Lansing, East Lansing, Pontiac, Owosso, Mt. Pleasant, Albion and Midland by 1964 when the 18 stores Yankee operated that year had 1,400 employees, a $3.25 million payroll and grossing $35 million annually.

Most of the Yankee stores were supermarket-sized general merchandise stores selling hard and soft goods including small appliances located next to grocery stores such as Hamady which enjoyed a close business relationship with Yankee in the Flint area, hence the adjacent Hamady Bros. and Yankee Stores on Richfield Road (which also had a Citizens Bank branch). Not quite one-stop shopping, but you could do your banking at Citizens, do your grocery shopping at Hamady Bros. next door and get the rest of the things you needed at Yankee next door. In 1961, Yankee opened its first big box location dubbed "Yankee Stadium Store" in the Northwest Shopping Center at the corner of Clio and Pierson Roads. For the grand opening of the 108,000 sq. ft. store, Megdell brought in Norm Cash and Frank Lary of the Detroit Tigers, Whitey Ford and Elston Howard of the New York Yankees and veteran sports announcer Van Patrick! They attracted quite a crowd! A second Yankee Stadium Store opened in 1964 at the former Dort Drive-In Theatre location at the corner of S. Dort Hwy. and Atherton Road as the first store in the Dort Mall.

In 1965, Megdell and Roberts sold the Yankee Store chain to Detroit-based Borman Foods. Megdell remained as president until he retired in 1967. Not long after Megdell's departure, the chain began a gradual decline. Borman Foods moved Yankee's base of operations from Flint to Detroit and sold the Yankee distribution warehouse on E. Court Street near S. Dort Hwy. to the Flint Board of Education which needed a new location for their warehouse as their old one was in the path of the I-475 expressway. I remember when my parents took me to the warehouse clearance sale at the vacating Yankee warehouse and I recall they bought glassware there.

The decline of Yankee Stores under Borman Foods (which concentrated on replacing the smaller stores with big box Yankee Department Stores) was hastened by an unsuccessful expansion into the Detroit marketplace where there was plenty of competition at K-Mart's home base. By 1971, Borman Foods had closed the Detroit area Yankee Department Stores and sold the outstate Michigan stores on February 1972 to the New York-based Hartfield-Zodys discount store chain. Hartfield-Zodys phased out the remaining small format Yankee Stores (including the Richfield Road location) and renamed the remaining Yankee Department Stores into Zodys. They also built additional Zodys stores to replace the closed Yankee Stores which included a new Zodys at Davison Road near Belsay Road in Burton (where there was also a Hamady store which is now being renovated for use as a church). But the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the resulting recession forced Hartfield-Zodys to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection on November 1974 and the first thing they did was to close the Michigan stores. The Store Closing Sale began at the Michigan Zodys stores on November 27, 1974 and I believe the stores were all closed by the end of the year, thus closing the final chapter of the history of the Yankee Store chain.

The Davison Road Zodys is today a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership. Throughout most of the history of Yankee Stores, the store's symbol has been Uncle Sam's red, white and blue hat. Back at Richfield Road, the closed Yankee store remained vacant for about four years before Hamady decided to renovate the Richfield Road store in 1976, absorbing the closed Yankee store space which doubled the size of the renovated Hamady Complete Food Center which the stores were known by at that time. When Kessel bought the closed Hamady stores, they quickly changed the signs and repainted the interiors before reopening the stores as Kessel stores including the Richfield Road store. Because of the large size ofthe Richfield Road Kessel store, I would think they would give that store a serious remodeling which they did in the year 2000 after Kroger bought 20 Kessel locations including this one.

Kroger originally planned on operating as Kessel in the Flint, Saginaw and Bay City TV market before deciding to gradually phase out the Kessel name in favor of Kroger as Kessel stores are renovated or replaced. Last year was the Richfield Road store's turn as Citizens Bank vacated the Richfield Center branch to make room for additional supermarket space which included a new pharmacy drive-thru window and new loading docks. During the renovation, I did a little amateur archeology at the store (before or after visiting my mother) when the suspended ceiling panels were removed, revealing the original plaster ceiling for both Hamady and Yankee. They didn't bother removing the old flourescent fixtures before putting up the suspended ceiling and the old Hamady ceiling had nicely colored detailed plaster cornice work which is still hidden over the new suspended ceiling at the beautifully renovated Kroger store which takes up the entire space formerly occupied by Citizens Bank, Hamady Bros supermarket and Yankee store.

While Hamady and Yankee are long gone, Citizens Bank is still going strong as the second-largest bank holding company based in Michigan (in downtown Flint under the landmark Weatherball) and is adding additional branches in Oakland County. If you go to the Sloan Museum in Flint's Cultural Center, there is a permanent exhibit on Flint's past which includes reminders of the Yankee and Hamady stores and is dominated by a restored Hamady Bros. neon sign from the Davison and Belsay Roads store. This column is dedicated to the memory of Yankee co-founder Joseph Megdell and I thank his son, attorney David Megdell for helping me with this column.

Relevant Link: Albion Yankee Store


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