Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum

Collections: Objects of the Month

October 2011: Photograph of first Giant supermarket, 1936

First Giant supermarket, 1936Archives Record
Object #: NNCF48
Description: Photograph of the exterior of the first Giant supermarket, located at 3509 Georgia Avenue, NW, 1936. Courtesy of Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation

Background: Nehemiah Cohen, a grocery store owner, and Samuel Lehrman, a food distributor, met in Pennsylvania, at Lehrman's Harrisburg Wholesale Grocery Co. warehouse. Eventually, they partnered to start a supermarket business and chose Washington for their new business venture. They hoped federal workers would provide a strong market even during the Depression.

Samuel Lehrman and Nehemiah Cohen shake hands

Samuel Lehrman and Nehemiah Cohen shake hands

Their first Giant supermarket opened at Georgia Avenue & Park Road, NW, in February 1936. Giant Food soon became one of the leading businesses in the Washington region as well a leader in corporate philanthropy. By the 1950s, Giant Food had grown into a regional chain with more than 50 stores in the city and suburbs. Giant remained a locally owned family business until 1998 when it was sold to Royal Ahold, Inc.

Society archivists recently completed a five-year project funded by the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation to preserve the history of Giant Food through oral histories and archival cataloging. The Giant Food Archival Collection includes corporate records, correspondence, marketing and publicity files, and an extensive set of photographs and negatives. The project also includes 17 oral history interviews. A selection of the photographs may be seen on the Jewish Historical Society's online catalog here.

Samuel Lehrman and Nehemiah Cohen shake hands

Birthday cake from Giant's Heidi Bakery made in celebration of Israel's bar-mitzvah birthday, 1961

Nehemiah Cohen's granddaughter Nina Cohen, added Giant material to the Society's archives earlier this year. Her donation includes papers and photographs (such as the one seen here) documenting the activities and philanthropy of her grandfather as well as her father, Emanuel Cohen.

Join the Society at Adas Israel Congregation on Sunday, November 6, 2011, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., when we will celebrate the Giant Food Archival Project at our annual meeting. Visit our Programs page for more information!