Frederik Meijer, a pioneer of supercenter retailing and visionary philanthropist, died Friday, November 25 in Grand Rapid at the age of 91. Meijer was a pioneer of the supercenter, one-stop shopping and hypermarket concepts, and the chain of 197 Meijer stores has over 60,000 employees in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. The Frederick G.H. Meijer memorial site says that Fred was a native of Greenville, MI, where his father, Hendrik, a Dutch immigrant barber, opened a grocery store in 1934. In 1946, he married Lena Rader, a cashier in that original store.
Born December 7, 1919, Fred worked in the store from the start, helping his father build the tiny grocery into a chain of supermarkets. In 1962, under Fred’s leadership, the chain opened its first “Thrifty Acres” store in Grand Rapids, a huge one-stop shopping discount emporium. As the company grew he was always an advocate of promoting people from within, an outspoken champion of civil rights, and a zealot for low prices. Fred – and he was, to his employees, simply “Fred” – was known for his competitive spirit and a keen sense of his own humble origins. In industry affairs, he was one of the longest serving directors of the Food Marketing Institute (formerly the Super Market Institute), and winner of its Sidney Raab award for outstanding service.
In his adopted hometown of Grand Rapids he played a vital role in the early years of the local Urban League and Goodwill Industries, and helped lead downtown urban renewal efforts. In 1984 he worked with a group of civic leaders and friends of President Ford to build the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum on the west bank of the Grand River. In those years he also served on the Cleveland District Board of the Federal Reserve. More recently, he was an active member of the Improvement Association.
In the video below, a rough cut of interviews and photos, Meijer tells a wonderful story about as customer coming in to the family store to return an off brand of cereal for Kellogg’s. Fred was about to tell the customer it had been purchased at a competitor’s store when his father said “Shut up Fred, we can eat the cereal.” The message he learned: Don’t send a customer to a competitor for a dime.