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Springfield Museums’ New Exhibit Honors Big Y

SPRINGFIELD — A new exhibit at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History traces the journey of Big Y Supermarkets from a small neighborhood grocery store to one of the largest independently owned supermarket chains in New England. The exhibit, titled “The Big Y: From Neighborhood Grocer to the Modern Supermarket,” is now on permanent view at the Wood Museum. In close proximity are displays honoring other local success stories like Friendly’s Ice Cream and Smith & Wesson.

The Big Y exhibit details the founding of the company in 1936, when Paul D’Amour, a Wonder Bread salesman, decided to be his own boss. He purchased one of the stores on his route at the intersection of Chicopee and Meadow Streets in Chicopee’s Willimansett Village, known as the ‘Y’ section of town. It was there, at the “Y Cash Market,” that Paul, along with his brother, Gerry, began their legacy.

At that time, orders were taken door-to-door and delivered later that afternoon, usually by bicycle. Using advances in food technology and a drive to exceed expectations, the brothers soon expanded their reach beyond that first location through the development of innovations like prepared and frozen foods, in-store pharmacies, electronic ordering systems, and shopper-friendly store design and services.

Through a combination of photographs and memorabilia, the exhibit helps illustrate the growth of the company from these modest beginnings to a company that now employs more than 10,000 associates at more than 60 stores across Massachusetts and Connecticut. Highlights of the exhibit include a replica of the original storefront at 726½ Chicopee St. along with a vintage shopping cart, delivery bicycle, and grocery items from Big Y’s earliest days.

“We feel confident that our loyal customers and wonderful fellow employees will be rightfully proud of their contribution to the success and growth of this locally owned and family-oriented company, committed to serving the nutritional needs of our communities,” said Donald D’Amour, Big Y chairman.

Added Guy McLain, director of the Wood Museum of Springfield History, “this exhibit helps to underscore the often-overlooked story of how supermarkets like Big Y helped to develop quick and efficient food-delivery systems and refrigeration technology, advances that are such key components of modern life.”

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