Fifty years ago, Rochester was introduced to a new kind of grocery store.

In an unprecedented move, Steve Barlow opened the 26,000-square-foot Barlow Foods on Sunday, July 27, 1969. That was a time when no Rochester groceries were open on Sundays.

"Soon, every grocery in town was open on Sunday," said Steve Barlow Jr., smiling as he remembered the audacity of his father's grand opening. The lavish event attracted 10,000 people, and 1,000 flowers were given away to women.

"Dad never believed in a 'soft opening,'" said the younger Barlow.

While Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and his father prepared for the opening, the son remembers using a label maker to create name badges for the store's nearly 50 employees.

Barlow, a successful Twin Cities grocer, built the new store in what was then an industrial area. It soon became apparent that the store was different than the other Rochester groceries of the time, such as Red Owl, Piggly Wiggly and others.

Barlow Foods had wide, carpeted aisles. It was open on Sundays and eventually was open 24 hours. It featured a popular bakery, a meat counter and a snack bar. Barlow Foods was the first Rochester store to use computers for inventory.

"Dad wasn't afraid to try something … We knew food better than anyone," said Barlow. "The idea was to make shoppers more knowledgable about food."

In 1982, the younger Barlow developed the Barlow Plaza shopping center around the growing grocery. While the Barlow family sold the grocery to Hy-Vee in 1997, the change spurred by that opening 50 years ago is still felt today.

"Rochester got it. Rochester got what Dad was doing, and it changed how they shopped for groceries," Barlow said.

Hear something? Share it with Heard on the Street. Call Jeff Kiger at 285-7600 or drop a note to jkiger@postbulletin.com.

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