Gemco was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, particularly California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 chain of membership department store
Department store
A department store is a retail establishment which satisfies a wide range of the consumer's personal and residential durable goods product needs; and at the same time offering the consumer a choice of multiple merchandise lines, at variable price points, in all product categories...

s that was owned by San Leandro
San Leandro, California
San Leandro is a city in Alameda County, California, United States. It is considered a suburb of Oakland and San Francisco. The population was 84,950 as of 2010 census. The climate of the city is mild throughout the year.-Geography and water resources:...

-based Lucky Stores
Lucky Stores
Lucky Stores is an American supermarket chain founded in Alameda County, California in 1935. Lucky is currently operated by SuperValu in Southern California and Nevada and by Save Mart in Northern California and Nevada.In 1998, Lucky's parent company, American Stores, was taken over by Albertsons,...

, a California supermarket
A supermarket, a form of grocery store, is a self-service store offering a wide variety of food and household merchandise, organized into departments...

 company which has since been acquired in the 1980s by American Stores Company, which was later acquired by Albertsons in 1999. It operated from 1959 until closing in late 1986. A number of the west coast stores were sold to Target
Target Corporation
Target Corporation, doing business as Target, is an American retailing company headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is the second-largest discount retailer in the United States, behind Walmart. The company is ranked at number 33 on the Fortune 500 and is a component of the Standard & Poor's...

 which fueled their entry into California. Gemco had a version called Memco, also owned by Lucky Stores, that operated stores in the Chicagoland and the Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....


Gemco is also a Dutch company that specializes in building firetrucks and mobile workshops. In the past Gemco furnaces was part of the company as well, this part of the business produced industrial ovens and furnaces. These activities have been taken over by Global Oven Systems and Smit Ovens, also Dutch companies.


Gemco was first established in Anaheim, California
Anaheim, California
Anaheim is a city in Orange County, California. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city population was about 365,463, making it the most populated city in Orange County, the 10th most-populated city in California, and ranked 54th in the United States...

 in October 1959. A year later, the company was purchased by Lucky Stores, which added the supermarket element and expanded Gemco into a chain. Business and profitability continued to be healthy for over 20 years until a series of unsuccessful leveraged takeover attempts from other companies were made on its parent company, Lucky Stores. Lucky, to avoid such hostile takeover attempts, eventually decided it was best to liquidate Gemco entirely. This liquidation occurred from September 1986 to November 1986. Target
Target Corporation
Target Corporation, doing business as Target, is an American retailing company headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is the second-largest discount retailer in the United States, behind Walmart. The company is ranked at number 33 on the Fortune 500 and is a component of the Standard & Poor's...

 reopened in most of the former Gemco locations by the fall of 1987, having remodeled many of Gemco's former prime business locations into Target's bright red-and-white trade dress
Trade dress
Trade dress is a legal term of art that generally refers to characteristics of the visual appearance of a product or its packaging that signify the source of the product to consumers...


Name, colors and logo

"GEMCO" never was an acronym, despite rumors ("Government Employees' Merchandising Company," etc. probably stemming from a similar store named Fedco
Federal Employees' Distributing Company, known as Fedco, was a membership department store chain that operated in Southern California from 1948 to 1999.-Beginning:...

 in southern California) to the contrary. The letters were simply an easily pronounced and remembered name. Brown (with tan accents) was Gemco's original main exterior background color, and the letters "GEMCO" were originally in red. An early 1980s redesign changed the chain's main exterior background color to blue (with light blue accenting), and its letter coloring in its logo to white (adding a yellow diamond on top of the "M"). The name may also be associated with the jewelry-camera concessionaire, Gem Distributing Company, which was based in Long Beach and which began operations during WWII by selling jewelry, and engagement rings in particular, to sailors on leave. A few of Gem's earliest employees were transferred to Gemco locations near Long Beach.

Offerings and innovations

An early example of what would become a hypermarket
In commerce, a hypermarket is a superstore combining a supermarket and a department store. The result is an expansive retail facility carrying a wide range of products under one roof, including full groceries lines and general merchandise...

, Gemco offered one-stop shopping for everything from garden supplies to groceries, and regular department store offerings as well. Its concessionaires included gasoline (located outside and away from the front entrance) and jewelry. One innovation the store offered - found nowhere else at the time - was the storing and delivery of already purchased groceries when the member was finished shopping the rest of the store. A numbered plastic card was placed on the cart(s) and its match was given to the customer. When the member was done shopping and ready to leave the premises, the member merely needed to drive to the side of the store where the plastic card was given to the security guard. The guard would call for a courtesy clerk to deliver the groceries, and the clerk would load them into the member's vehicle. Niceties such as this won many new members to Gemco, and created repeat business.

Gemco was a preferred employer in many of the locations in which it did business. Unlike may other "discount" chains (e.g. Payless) Gemco employed union members of the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers). The benefits and wages offered to Gemco employees helped it attract and retain a better workforce than most other "discount" stores. Vestiges of the longer-tenured employees of Gemco can still be found today at many Costco stores (also a membership department store) in the San Francisco Bay Area, where management includes many former Gemco management employees.

Gemco also offered a credit department to help increase sales. It was particularly busy each year during the Christmas
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday generally celebrated on December 25 by billions of people around the world. It is a Christian feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, liturgically closing the Advent season and initiating the season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days...

 shopping period.

On a trial basis, a few Gemco stores offered free babysitting while an adult was shopping in the store. The adult would drop off the child in the designated area of the store and would be given a ticket with a number on it. When done shopping they would give the cashier the ticket, who in return called the babysitting dept and a clerk would bring the child out to the parent. The parent could also pick the child up directly as well. After about one year of trial Gemco ceased operation of this trial. California law required a caregiver in a commercial operation to be licensed and insured as a daycare.


The East Coast stores, located in the Washington, D.C., area, were called Memco instead of Gemco to avoid confusion with an already existing area chain called GEM
G. E. M. Membership Department Stores
G. E. M. Membership Department Stores, also known as G.E.X. or G.E.S., was a chain of discount stores in the United States and Canada. The chain extended membership to direct and indirect government employees; the name was an acronym for "Government Employees Mart."Appliance and electronics...

. Memco stores had a blue color scheme on its walls and signage. Memco honored Gemco membership cards, and vice versa.

Memco entered the Washington, DC market in 1969 with 100000 square feet (9,290.3 m²) stores on Little River Turnpike at Braddock Road in Annandale, Virginia
Annandale, Virginia
Annandale is a census-designated place in Fairfax County, Virginia, United States. The population was 41,008 at the 2010 census, down from 54,994 in 2000 due to the splitting off of the western part of it to form Wakefield and Woodburn CDP's.-Geography:...

 and on Allentown Road in Camp Springs, Maryland
Camp Springs, Maryland
Camp Springs is an unincorporated area and census-designated place in Prince George's County, Maryland, United States. The population was 17,968 at the 2000 census. Camp Springs is not an official post office designation, but rather the area is divided between the surrounding mailing addresses...

. When the chain announced its exit from the market in December 1982, there were 13 stores (including one in Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, and two in the Baltimore area), two of which had opened just two months earlier, and a 14th store which was to be in Burke, VA { a suburb of Washington DC,} under construction. The closings idled 1,200 retail workers.All of those locations were converted to Bradlees
Bradlees was a chain of discount department stores which operated primarily in the Northeastern United States. The chain went bankrupt in 2000 and all of its stores were closed by March 2001.-History:...

 upon Memco's closing. Several of the former locations are currently open as Home Depot or Kmart. Home Depot near Fairfax Circle in Fairfax, Virginia used to be a Memco.

Fictitious town

The fictitious town of Gemco, California is located in Van Nuys, CA near Woodman Avenue and Saticoy Street. It appeared on a map in the 1980s, possibly as a copyright trap
Trap street
A trap street is a fictitious entry in the form of a misrepresented street on a map, often outside the area the map nominally covers, for the purpose of "trapping" potential copyright violators of the map, who will be unable to justify the inclusion of the "trap street" on their map...

, and is now in many mapping databases.

Further reading

  • "But Moods Are Worlds Apart; Memco Executives, Employes Look Ahead," The Washington Post, December 29, 1982
  • "Bradlees to enter D.C. with 10 units," Women's Wear Daily, August 8, 1983

External links

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