Simmons Center Market Celebrates 80 Years

When you think about it, “80” is a big number – any way you slice it. Eighty steaks. Eighty bucks. Eighty candles. Eighty years. That’s how many years the people of Dorchester County, and beyond, have grown to love and shop at Simmons Center Market. On September 7, Simmons will celebrate 80 years in business. A lot has happened since 1937 and the family business has endured and thrived through it all.

In 1937, a loaf of bread cost about nine cents while a gallon of gas was 10 cents. Cashing in an insurance policy, Jimmy Simmons hitched a ride on a boat to Baltimore to buy grocery equipment needed to open his new store at 600 Race Street. He wasn’t brand new to the grocery industry, with his parents operating a general store on Hoopers Island. He came to town to work at a grocery store and decided to strike out on his own. Eighty years later, his legacy lives on. Ricky Travers, a grandson, and his immediate family still operate Simmons Center Market today.

Simmons Center Market is still located at 600 Race Street where it opened 80 years ago.

In 1937 there were about 35 other grocery store businesses in Cambridge. In comparison, today there are only a handful of grocery stores in Cambridge, including convenience stores. Times have changed and, yet, in a lot of ways, they really haven’t for the Travers family and Simmons Center Market customers.

The family still strives for excellent customer service. The family excels at high quality products. The Travers family is still in business together. They continue to offer hard to find and unique products. They continue to anticipate the newest trends. Anticipating trends is something that Jimmy Simmons did so well. His promotions were over the top and sales attracted customers from far and wide.

Jimmy Simmons was a man with foresight. He offered self-serve grocery shopping in 1945 more than two years before any other store on the Delmarva Peninsula south of Wilmington, Delaware.

Jimmy’s most unique promotion involved dropping 2,500 pie plates (think flying saucers from the days of “War of the Worlds”) from a plane over Cambridge, advertising a chance to win prizes. The school principal canceled classes because students were all outside chasing pie plates. In another popular promotion, Aunt Jemima came to the store to cook up her famous pancakes in person – twice. Mr. Peanut from Planters visited, too.

And, as far as predicting the future, Jimmy was one of the first in the country to offer self-service grocery store shopping in 1945, more than two years before anyone else in the area. The people in Cambridge didn’t appreciate his forward thinking, according to Ricky, now the owner of the iconic store. People didn’t understand what to do with a shopping cart.

Jimmy was also the first to sell prepackaged chicken wrapped in cellophane, which was still a new product at the time. His slogan: “You buy your chicken from me and I’ll clean it for free.” It took a while for that to catch on, too.

Jimmy Simmons liked to celebrate the store’s anniversaries with birthday cake – some were big enough to feed 2,500 friends.

Eighty years later, Jimmy’s descendants continue to predict the future. Ever hear of Blue Apron, an ingredient-and-recipe meal kit service? Simmons Center Market has been delivering food to its customers for so many years it’s hard to remember when it started. Ever find yourself ordering a gift basket from 1-800-Flowers for special occasions? Been there, done that. Simmons is famous for their holiday baskets that they offer every year. Currently, farm to table is all the rage, right? Simmons has been buying produce from local farmers all along. People today want to know where their food comes from and the folks at Simmons can tell you.

Ricky Travers grew up at Simmons Center Market, coming to the store with his mother Joane. Here, he juggles fatherhood and work.

Simmons began offering wholesale as part of the business in the 1960s after an upstairs soda fountain didn’t pan out. It was converted into storage for the wholesale side of things and it continues today. Simmons provides quality meats to local restaurants, for example.

The business is truly a family affair. Ricky started spending his days at the market when he was just three months old. Ricky went to work with his mother, Joane, every day. Ricky’s sister, Lollie, and his wife, Rosi, as well as their two sons, work at the store today, too. For them, there is no life without Simmons Center Market.

Customers are like family. Sitting at his desk overlooking the store below, Ricky greets customers through a window. Taking a few minutes out of his busy day, Ricky speaks to a loyal customer who has been shopping at Simmons for 60 years. “The most rewarding part of the business is the customers,” admits Ricky. The toughest part of the business is probably staying ahead of the trends and on top of the regulations, he added.

His grandfather always instilled in his family that the business needed to have a niche and be special, explained Ricky. “We needed to have a reason to draw customers to us,” he said. “People would return for the service, quality, price and specialty items.”

Even now Simmons exceeds in offering unique items not found elsewhere, including old fashioned barrel molasses, bulk candy, Maryland Beaten Biscuits, fresh turkeys and hams for the holidays, and fresh meat butchered days before it’s sold at Simmons.

In addition, next door the family operates The Cobblers Country Gift & Garden Shop featuring a greenhouse and gift center full of healthy plants and flowers, mulch, stone, topsoil, garden supplies and gifts.

To celebrate its 80th anniversary, Simmons Center Market will hold a celebration on Thursday, September 7, 2017, from 5 to 7 p.m. There will be a weekend sale from Thursday through Saturday as well. The store is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The store is closed Sundays. Jimmy liked to say, if you can’t make it in six days, you won’t in seven. The family honors that tradition today. For more information, call 410-228-4313 or email travers@simmonscentermkt.com. Visit Simmons Center Market on Facebook.

Did You Know?

In 1937…

  • Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” debuted.
  • Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during a circumnavigation flight.
  • The German airship Hindenburg burst into flames in New Jersey.
  • San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened.
  • The Toyota Motor Company was founded.
  • The National Basketball League formed.
  • Ronald Reagan debuted in his first film “Love Is on the Air.”
  • The average new home cost $4,100.
  • The average wages per year was $1,780.

~ According to www.thepeoplehistory.com.

 

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