Throwback Thursday: The Astor Market Was a First (Failed) Attempt at a Supermarket on the Upper West Side


The Astor Market. Photo via Library of Congress.

Just over 100 years ago, a member of the famed Astor family tried a unique experiment on 95th Street and Broadway — a market where people could get a wide variety of goods all under one roof.

The Astor Market — on the site of what is now Symphony Space — is sometimes called the first supermarket, according to the Bowery Boys, who wrote about the history of the market. It was built in 1915, at a time when the city was looking for new ways to expand markets — food prices were spiking because of World War I.

So Vincent Astor, husband to famed philanthropist Brooke Astor, opened the Astor Market.


A coffee stand at the market.

Check out a $4 “Christmas Menu” from the market. Boiled onions, raisins and a 9-pound goose. Yum!

The Bowery Boys note that the city’s high hopes for the market didn’t quite come to fruition.

The city had great hopes that the Astor Market would set the standard for others in the city. “This is the last word in market building,” said the city’s commissioner of markets…The Astor Market is sometimes called the first supermarket. But it was a bit too experimental for its day and the market closed in 1917. Simply put — people still preferred small and local vs. wide selection at a distance.

Apparently at the time people preferred shopping at small local spots. Fairway was founded as a fruit cart in 1933, by the way, before becoming one of the most successful markets in the city.

Read the whole Bowery Boys post here.

FOOD, HISTORY | 9 comments | permalink
    1. Ll says:

      That is super interesting. I bet it would have killed in the 80s, 90s, and maybe into the early 2000s, before people started buying EVERYTHING online.

    2. World Peacenik says:

      The coffee was good, but not much else.

    3. Paul on W 67 says:

      $4 in 1915 = $103 in 2020. Not bad for an entire cooked goose dinner, which looks to feed at least 4-6 people

    4. chris says:

      love these stories!

    5. Kath says:

      Precisely why many New Yorkers now choose not to be in Target’s thrall.

    6. Liz says:

      Keep these wonderful stories from the archives coming! So important to understand where we’re coming from.

    7. Merv Kaufman says:

      Stories like this one are a refreshing and engaging relief from the somber news stories we continue to engage about a galloping virus and a stubborn, destructive and absolutely insensitive about-to-be ex-president.

      • UWS Gal says:

        It’s amazing how some people manage to insert Trump negativity into a story about something that happened a century ago!