In this era of strip malls and outlet stores it’s getting difficult to tell one suburban community from another. Some people might like the fact that you can hardly tell your hometown from a city across the country or even in another part of the world, but it wasn’t always like this.
All these ubiquitous chains started somewhere with only one location, so if you ever wanted to know where to go to shake your fist in the air to curse the strip-malling of America, these 15 locations below would be a good start.
In perhaps the most famous of all franchising stories, Dick and Mac McDonald opened the first McDonald’s restaurant in May, 1940, in San Bernardino, California. Their “fast food” philosophy was a big success, and in 1953 the brothers opened their first franchised McDonald’s in Phoenix, Arizona, which was also the first one with the golden arches. In 1954, milkshake-mixer salesman Ray Kroc visited the original location of the now-four-strong chain, and was so impressed he made a deal to sell the franchises himself not long after he opened his own McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois. The rest, as they say, is history. The current headquarters are in Oak Brook, Illinois, and there are over 31,000 locations around the world.
Back in the hippie days of 1969, people often referred to the ‘generation gap’ between parents and children of the era. That same summer a couple named Donald and Doris Fisher opened a store on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco called The Gap, based on that phrase, and it sold Levis, records, and tapes, although the music offerings were dropped shortly thereafter in favor of more clothes. The following year a second store was opened in San Jose, and the march through California and then across the country was on. In 1983 the company bought the Banana Republic chain, and in 1994 they launched the Old Navy chain as a more budget oriented line. The Gap is now the United States’ largest specialty retailer with over 3,100 locations worldwide, with the majority of those being in the US.
Harland Sanders was born in 1890, and he served as a private in the army (stationed in Cuba) long before he was operating a gas station along Route 66 in Corbin, Kentucky, which is about 60 miles south of Lexington. He began serving chicken meals out of his residence at the station at the age of 40 in 1930. The governor of Kentucky made Sanders an honorary colonel in 1936 for his contribution to the state’s cuisine, and though his restaurant’s popularity continued to grow, it wasn’t until the early 1950s that he began franchising the operation. In 1952 (at age 62) the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise opened in Salt Lake City, and things took off quickly after that. The name was officially changed to KFC much later, and now the chain is owned by Yum! Brands, with over 11,000 locations in over 80 countries around the world.
Conrad Hilton was a representative in the first legislature of the newly formed State of New Mexico in 1912, and then he enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve in WWI. Upon return he moved to Texas where in 1919 he bought the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, which is about 140 miles west of Dallas. He began opening hotels throughout Texas, including the first high-rise, which was also the first called “The Hilton” in Dallas in 1925. That hotel still stands, although it recently changed hands yet again, and is now known as the Hotel Indigo Dallas Aristocrat, after having been a Holiday Inn not long ago. The Hilton chain continued to expand through the decades, becoming international with its Puerto Rico hotel in 1949, and into Europe with its Madrid location in 1953. There are now over 500 branded Hilton hotels around the world, and according to Google, the Paris location is by far the most searched for.
In late 1954, which is the same year Ray Kroc discovered the successful McDonald’s restaurant in California, business partners James McLamore and David Edgerton wanted to enter the growing fast food industry, so they opened “Insta Burger King” at 3090 NW 36th Street in Miami, Florida, about a mile east of the airport. Three years later they introduced ‘the Whopper’ to the menu, at 37 cents, and two years after that the franchise plan got underway. Momentum quickly built, and now the chain operates over 11,000 restaurants in around 60 countries around the world.
In another story that is fairly well known, in the 1940s Arkansas businessman Sam Walton learned the retail game working at a JC Penney, and then went on to run a couple discount stores which became very successful by undercutting competitor’s prices. In 1950 he opened his first Walton’s 5 & 10 in Bentonville, Arkansas. In 1962 he had eleven Walton’s stores, and he decided to start a new discount store chain. That year the first Wal-Mart was opened in Rogers, Arkansas. Expansion of the new chain was rapid, with 78 stores by 1974, 330 stores by 1980, 1,114 stores by 1985, and over 1,500 locations by 1990. Like it or not, the expansion has continued, and also includes the Sam’s Club warehouse stores, and the Wal-Mart Supercenters. They are by far the largest retailer in the world, and the largest private employer in the world. They have over 4,200 locations in the United States alone, and over 3,100 more locations spread in 13 other countries.
Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers
Dave Thomas gained success in the early 1960s turning around four underperforming locations of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and with the profits of selling his locations he invested in the first Wendy’s restaurant, which opened in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio. The name Wendy’s comes from the nickname of his youngest daughter, Melinda Lou, who was unable to say her own name properly so she became known as Wenda, and then later Wendy. The Columbus location was very successful, and aggressive franchising has led to almost 7,000 locations in over 20 countries, though most are in the United States. In 2007 the original location in Columbus finally closed down.
Inspired by Dutch immigrant Alfred Peet, who opened a small coffee bean store in Berkeley, California in 1966, three friends opened the first Starbucks in 1971 at 2000 Western Avenue, just a block away from the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle. (The name Starbuck comes from Captain Ahab’s first mate in the book Moby Dick.) In 1976 the original store moved a block away to 1912 Pike Place, which is still open and operating today. It wasn’t until 1987 that Starbucks, shortly after the original partners sold the small chain to Howard Schultz, began selling fresh coffee and espresso in addition to the roasted beans they were known for. By the time they went public in 1992 the company had grown to 165 stores, and their rapid expansion since then has been missed by very few. By early 2008 they had over 16,000 worldwide locations, though not long after that they announced they would close around 600 under-performing shops.
In 1927, John Jefferson Green approached the owners of the Dallas Southland Ice Company about selling milk, eggs, and bread through their retail ice docks, and soon the first-ever known convenience store was born in Dallas, Texas. The following year the name was changed to Tote’m Stores, after a manager returned from an inspirational trip to Alaska. By 1946 the chain covered much of north-central Texas, and the name was changed to 7-Eleven, to emphasize the unusually long operating hours at each store. Franchising didn’t begin until 1963, and the Slurpee didn’t appear until two years after that. In spite of its heartland America heritage, the company has been controlled by a Japanese parent corporation since 1991, which is a little less surprising when you consider that over 12,000 of the 34,200 worldwide 7-Eleven locations are in Japan, with over 1,500 in Tokyo alone. There are also around 1,500 7-Elevens in Bangkok, Thailand alone, and over 6,000 in the United States. The chain currently has more worldwide locations than any other in any category.
Fred DeLuca was only 17-years-old in 1965, when a family friend named Dr. Peter Buck loaned him $1,000 along with the advice to open up a submarine sandwich shop to earn money for college. The young man soon opened Pete’s Super Submarines in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and after noticing that radio ads for Pete’s Submarines sounded too much like “Pizza Marines,” the name was changed to Pete’s Subway, and then later to just Subway when they began franchising the successful shops in 1974. The franchising has grown exponentially, partly due to a relatively low cost of entry for owners, as well as the relentless advertising campaign starring former-fatty Jared Fogle, which debuted in January, 2000. There are currently almost 30,000 locations in 87 countries.
It launched with its first location in 1962 in Santa Barbara, California, already with the concept of building a large chain of budget motels from the outset. Two California building contractors who specialized in low cost housing decided they could enter the lodging field with no-frills rooms that rented for $6 per night. Within four years they’d built twenty-six Motel 6’s, and their success grew from there, although the original partners sold the growing chain in 1968. The original Santa Barbara location is still there and operating, and it’s one of a group of over 900 locations in the chain that is now owned by French hotel group Accor. There is at least one Motel 6 in each of the lower 48 states, and yet the only international locations are a few in Canada.
Shortly after WWII was over, entrepreneurs Burton Baskin (who made ice cream while in the U.S. Navy) and Irvine Robbins wanted to open ice cream shops in the Los Angeles area. Irv opened Snowbird Ice Cream in Pasadena, and Burt opened Burton’s Ice Cream in nearby Glendale, and by 1948 they had 6 stores between them. One year later they’d grown to 40 stores, and bought their own dairy in Burbank, which allowed them full control over their product. In 1953 they combined the huge operation into the Baskin-Robbins 31 Ice Cream chain, with the number added to the name that implied there was a different flavor for every day of the month. By the mid-1960s they had 400 stores across the country, and in the 1970s they opened their first international stores in Japan, Saudi Arabia, Korea, and Australia. It’s now by far the world’s largest ice cream chain, with over 2,800 stores in the United States, and over 5,800 around the globe.
In 1964 brothers named Leroy and Forrest Raffel decided they wanted to create a fast food chain that wasn’t all about hamburgers, and their first location opened on July 23 of that year in Boardman, Ohio, which is just south of Youngstown, and about 50 miles from either Cleveland or Pittsburgh, PA. The name Arby’s comes from the initials for Raffel Brothers, though many have long suspected it comes from the initials for roast beef, which has been the signature product since day one. Some beef aficionados wonder why the texture of Arby’s “roast beef” doesn’t really resemble that of actual roast beef, but this hasn’t stopped them from opening over 3,700 locations in the years since. They are currently owned by Triarc, and in the process of merging with the Wendy’s hamburgers chain, which will give them over 10,000 locations combined, still not even close to McDonald’s or Subway, but in the same ballpark as Burger King or KFC in their quest for future world dominance.
Barnes & Noble
Back in 1873, Charles M. Barnes started a book business out of his home in Wheaton, Illinois, and it wasn’t until 1917 that his son William went to New York City to open a bookstore with G. Clifford Noble at 31 West 15th St. in Manhattan. In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, the pair opened what would become the flagship store at 18th Street and Fifth Avenue. That store remains open still today as the foundation of their college books division, and due to a number of additions over the years it made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest bookstore. In the 1970s they began opening smaller stores elsewhere, and they bought the 797 locations of competitor B. Dalton Bookseller in 1987, only to close most of those stores in the following decades as Amazon and others helped put bookstores on the endangered list. Barnes & Noble is currently the largest bookstore chain in the United States, with almost 800 locations as well as a thriving web business.
Former Marine Glen Bell came home to San Bernardino, California after WWII, where he opened up Bell’s Drive-In, which he sold in 1952 in order to pay for three new restaurants called Taco Tio in the same area. The chain grew from there until Bell sold his shares to new business partners, so in 1962 he could open his first Taco Bell in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey, California. By the time Bell sold the chain to PepsiCo in 1975, there were 868 locations. Not slowed down at all by the fact that every item on the menu tastes the same, dramatic expansion has continued and there are now over 5,500 locations in the United States, and 240 locations elsewhere in the world.