Winners and losers in the grocery game

The retail chains Aldi and Trader Joe’s have always been competitors in the city of Westlake, but many aren’t familiar with these stores’ origins.

In 1946 Germany, brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht founded the grocery store Aldi. In a war-torn country, the idea of a low cost grocery store chain took off and they were soon able to expand. Within four years, their small chain had expanded to 13 stores and the business continued to grow.

As Germany’s economy continued to evolve, tensions began to rise between the two brothers. The final blow occurred in 1960, when the two brothers disputed on whether to sell cigarettes. Both brothers had different ideas on what kind of business – or what kind of problems – that the cigarette-smoking consumer would bring.

Unable to compromise, they decided to split the business into two separate divisions: Aldi North and South. Despite this, both businesses continued to grow. Both companies had different plans to go international.

Theo Albrecht, CEO of Aldi North, decided to purchase the small retail chain Trader Joe’s; Karl, CEO of Aldi South, chose to open Aldi stores under its original name. Almost 50 years later, our little community is home to both Trader Joe’s and Aldi, one mile apart.

Westlake’s economy has shifted and evolved, and this shift in changes may be pushing out one of these stores. Rumors have begun to swirl that the Aldi on Detroit is moving into Lorain County in the next few years, unable to compete in the market that this city has grown into. Unfounded rumors are never basis for good reporting, but corporate America understands that for a majority of Westlake customers, a low cost grocery store is not wanted or needed – which is why stores like Fresh Thyme, Market District, and soon-to-be World Market have opened in the last couple years. 

However, the majority is not always an accurate representation of the whole. Not unlike the Albrecht brothers, we stereotype our neighbors based on economic standing and push them from our community. Aldi leaving – and along with it, the lower-class, cigarette-smoking consumer the two brothers disagreed about – could be interpreted as the continuing evolution of Westlake's class distinctions.

It begs to ask the question: Is our need for a high quality grocery chain ostracizing our neighbors who cannot afford it? And in doing so, are we losing our sense of community? Maybe it's just a few grocery stores, or maybe it's a tale in history repeating itself.

Henry Levenberg

WHS Senior

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Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 9:46 AM, 01.21.2020