The grocery business has changed dramatically since Daniel Colgan opened the first general store in 1827 on the northeast corner of the Capitol grounds. For the first 150 years, locally, they were owner-operated. Today, only one family-owned grocery store remains in Jefferson City.
By 1830, Israel Read and Thomas and Phillip Miller also had opened stores in Jefferson City. They had no other competition until Morris and Joseph Obermeyer opened a business on High Street in 1844.
About 1,000 people lived in Jefferson City in 1852, when German immigrant John Asel established the first meat market at 109 E. High St. The store expanded to other locations, and several of his sons continued the business until closing in 1964.
By 1900, the population was 9,664, with 37 grocery establishments and three meat markets. Seven stores were in the 100 block of East High Street, 12 in the 200 block and three in the 300 block.
General stores carried a full range of merchandise including groceries, dry goods, hardware and feed. Merchants purchased staple items in bulk from wholesalers and repackaged them for sale in smaller quantities. Local farmers supplied milk, produce and live chickens, while fishermen provided fish from the Missouri River.
Many of these early companies were "mom and pop" operations, owned and operated by husband and wife, and frequently involving other family members. It was common for them to live in the same building as the business or nearby. Subsequent generations sometimes continued the operation.
John Herman Schulte left St. Peter's School after the eighth grade then clerked in grocery stores for a time. He opened his own store in 1902 at 702 E. McCarty St. He and his family lived across the street. In 1944, when John Herman died, his sons, Adolph and Cecil, ran the business until it closed around 1980.
When the population was 14,490 in 1920, Jefferson City had 34 grocery stores and five meat markets. As more homes left the downtown area, the stores followed, becoming not only a place to shop, but also a community gathering spot. Many offered credit and home delivery service.
At the same time, national chain stores started competing with locally owned establishments. In 1925, Kroger Company, of Cincinnati, Ohio, entered the Jefferson City market with five stores around the city, and Piggy Wiggly, of Memphis, Tennessee, opened a store on East High Street in 1929.
By the 1930s, the population had grown by 7,000, the number of grocery stores had doubled and meat markets had reduced by half.
Temple Stephens Company, of Moberly, arrived in 1935 and expanded to four stores by 1940. In 1937, The Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company opened two stores on East High Street then consolidated to one market at 207 Adams St. in 1942. This was the beginning of the self-serve era in the business.
Growth slowed in the 1940s, when Jefferson City's population was 24,268, with 64 stores offering both groceries and meat.
The 1950s and '60s were a time of transition. Family-owned stores were space-limited and unable to stock the extensive line of goods carried by the larger chains. It was difficult to match the financial staying power of the large corporations, and many were squeezed out of the market.
Robert C. Schulte (not related to John Herman Schulte) was a student at Lincoln University when he opened his first store at 901 E. High St. in 1958 with meat cutter Bill Tichelkamp. In 1965, they opened a second store at 1805 Missouri Blvd., and Schulte soon bought out Tichelkamp.
Schulte added stores on Madison and Dunklin streets, plus five markets in Fulton, Columbia, Eldon and California. He then opened a grand new store in 1976 at 1904 Southwest Blvd., eventually consolidating operations there.
Robert (Bob) Schulte married Marjorie Lehman in 1955, and they had eight children who grew up in the family business. Their son, John, remembers sorting pop bottles when he was 10 and working in the store by high school. Today he's the general manager, and his sister, Kathy Moad, is office manager. Their brother, Bob Jr., retired in 2018, but his wife, Debbie, still manages the floral department. Diane Schulte's husband, Dave Siebeneck, ran the bakery and is semi-retired. Today, six grandchildren continue in the family operation, which has become an integral part of the community.
Currently, Jefferson City's population is around 43,000, and the city has seven freestanding grocery stores plus four big-box stores. Schulte's Fresh Foods is the only one that is locally owned.
Nancy Arnold Thompson is a retired medical administrator and former member of the Cemetery Resources Board for Jefferson City. Her hobby is cemetery preservation and restoration.