Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sipes Food Market

A.H. Sipes began his grocery store business in Oklahoma City (1909) and came to Tulsa in 1927.  They were known to be one of the first stores to bring self-service grocery shopping to Oklahoma yet maintained the nostalgic warmth of a neighborhood grocery store even when they expanded. 

Personal Memories
Going to Sipes was a Saturday afternoon tradition for my dad and I.  We would leave around 10:00 a.m. (shopping list -written by Mom- in hand) and go to his office which was down around 13th and Boulder in a renovated house (later taken out by the expressway).  I would doodle around amusing myself on some poor secretary's typewriter while he worked.  Then we would head over to Ike's Chili Parlor (the last location downtown at 7th and Boston) for 3-way "Spi-get Special" (this was how they pronounced spaghetti and chili with beans and cheese) and a coke served in a paper cone cup in a metal holder.  It was always interesting to sit at the counter and just watch the people working or watch Ollie ring up people at the register by the door.  Then off we would go to Sipes for the weeks groceries.  
My parents' first house was over by the fairgrounds, so the 27th and Harvard location was where we went, even after we moved way out south.  Dad occasionally went to the Sipes at 61st and Yale when it opened but always preferred the Harvard location.  I think it was because he knew the butcher there on a first-name basis. When we would reach the meat department, Dad would give me a dime and I would head over to the Coke machine and get a chocolate Yoohoo and wait. 
If it was summertime, there would be much discussion about loin back ribs, pork chops and steaks for cooking on the Hasty Bake.  If it was winter time, Dad had to choose the right piece of meat and right amount of suet for his chili and have it ground 2-3 times. I'm sure no Tulsa child will ever forget the cartoon/movie "hut" that children were sent to to wait while groceries were being sacked and paid for. Getting a penny to buy a piece of bubble gum from the machine and watching a cartoon for 10 minutes was a great way to end our weekly excursion.  My parent's were very loyal Sipes customers.  Mom even did some advertising modeling for them in the 1950's.  

Sipes Success Story
Customer service and personal check cashing were just two of the many ways Sipes stayed in business, especially during the Great Depression.  In the early 30's there were seven Sipes "self-serving stores" in Tulsa:  11th & Columbia, Peoria just south of 15th Street, 11th & Cheyenne, 15th & Trenton, Edison & Denver, 6th & Zunis, and in the former Warehouse Market building at 11th & Elgin.

These were small stores without much parking needed since few automobiles were on the streets back then.  After WWII, only 2 of those stores were paying operations.  In 1943 son LeRoy Sipes became general manager and bought a location at 15th & Quaker for a larger, more up-to-date super-market.  (This building still stands and is a restaurant).

The 10,000 sq ft facility was the first of five Sipes stores built on the grand scale customers were beginning to demand and included a drug store.

In 1945, the Sipes chain won national recognition for modern supermarket design, including departmentalization of produce and conveyor belt checkout stands. Sipes also received 12 advertising excellence awards from Woman's Day and McCall's magazines. 

Besides the Harvard location (now a Dollar Store), large stores were opened in Holliday Hills (61st & Yale), Eastgate (Admiral & Memorial)  and 32nd & Memorial (now Drysdales).

Hale-Halsell company acquired Sipes Food Markets in 1955 which probably helped the chain outlast many others for decades.  In the early 1970's there were plans to open a store on the northwest corner of 71st & Memorial that fell through.  It was supposed to look like this:

One by one the stores closed with the 61st & Yale location being the last, closing in 1992.


DrillerAA09 said...

I grew up around 28th and New Haven, so the 27th and Harvard location was a special place for me as well.

Tommy Boy said...

I worked at 27th and Harvard during High School. It was a great place and lots of great people.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed seeing the Sipes pictures and story. I worked for Sipes from 1962 till 1980, managed three of the stores. I loved working there and will always remember "the customer is always right policy". Today I still pay attention how the stores like Reasor's and others are operated. Sipes taught me a lot!
John Roop

Nancy said...

Thanks for the nice comments everyone! They really do mean a lot.

Anonymous said...

I was receptionist then office manager and secretary for David Sipes and LeRoy Sipes at Sipes Food Markets in the 1970's. The corporate offices were behind the Memorial store (now Drysdale's). The interior of each of the stores and the corporate office was decorated by an interior decorator from Wichita, KS. Sipes was the first grocery store to bring scanners to the checkout in Tulsa. They published recipes in their newspaper ads and eventually published a cookbook which was a compilation of those recipes. Mr. Charles Wentz was the grocery buyer and later Mr. Ray Todd filled that position. Mr. Curtis Mann was General Manager and Meat Buyer. A portion of the land where the proposed 71st and Memorial store was to be located was sold to Toys R Us and that store was never built. However, a store on 71st was built in the 70's. David Sipes built the Kensington store just west of Lewis on 71st, located at the east end of what was then Kensington Mall. When I was employed there in the 70's, I seem to remember that Hale Halsell owned a controlling interest in Sipes Food Markets, and the family retained 49% interest. I also seem to remember that the Memorial store became or it was planned to become a "box store" sometime in the 80's. It was later, also sometime in the 80's that Hale Halsell bought the family's remaining interest. Hale Halsell also owned Git n Go stores. Sipes was a great company and a wonderful company to work for. Thanks Nancy for posting the Sipes story.

Anonymous said...


Nancy said...

Wow, thanks so much for the additional information Donna! I completely forgot about the Kensington store until you mentioned it!

glen said...

My dad work there in the meat dept,from 1955 to 1979.

Anonymous said...

Hey, what a cool post! I worked at Sipes Harvard Village for 6.5 years during high school and college - it was such a fun job to meet and serve so many great people, and was "back in the day" when work wasn't so stressful. Enjoyed my time there in 1980 to 1986. Have only had TWO jobs since then in my entire career! Miss those days. John Pittman

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the blog killed my last name! Pittman

Russ said...

This brings back memories. I worked at the 71st and Kensington store for a number of years before transferring to the 51st and Sheridan (I think...after all it was 20 yrs ago, lol) store. Worked there while attending ORU.

Russ said...

This brings back memories. I worked at the 71st and Lewis store (Kensington) for a number of years before transferring to the 51st and Sheridan (I think...after all it was 20 yrs ago, lol) store. Worked there while attending ORU.


vince said...

My father, John Coultis, is the Interior Designer from Wichita who worked with the Sipes while I grew up. Leroy would send us two bushel baskets each Christmas which I remember fondly 40 years later. Sipes was a classic!

MCSquared said...

Who won't forget the Cartoon Hut at the front of the 61st/Yale store. Old B&W toons like Popeye and Mickey Mouse being projected on a tiny screen. By today's standard, terrible quality...but back then, terrific.

Michael N Thomas said...

My name is Michael Thomas, from Trinidad and Tobago.

While I attended TU, I worked with a great girl named Liz Sipes at Bongo Sylly's restaurant on Boston Ave, Tulsa in 1980.

I think she was related to the supermarket owners.

She made an excellent quiche and loved to cook.

Please contact me at

Stephanie said...

I worked for Sipes for 16 years, divided between 27th & Harvard, Holliday Hills, & Kensington. I met lots of nice people (customers and employees), and think I could write a book about the adventures of working there. I certainly learned what 'good service' means and how to behave on the job. Wish the concept would catch on today.
Stephanie Stevenson (aka Stephanie Brown).

Anonymous said...

I worked at Sipes for several years and really enjoyed the experience... I worked there through my high school years and during my early college years.. John Sparks was an awesome manager..

Anonymous said...

I remember John Sparks. Really liked him. I worked at Eastgate in high school and met a lot of great people. Fell in love with a cashier there. Leroy and David had offices upstairs there and we would occasionally see Leroy and his wife in their Chrysler Imperial setting in the drive-in at Pennington's eating just like everybody else. We used to unload the customer's cart, putting their items on the conveyor belt and a cadre of "sackers" would bag the items up, put them on a cart and take them to the customer's car. Used to make pretty good money in tips and had fun doing it. I helped open the Memorial "Barn", and I worked at 61st/Yale until I got drafted in 1970. I believe at one time that store had one of the, if not the highest revenues of any grocery in Oklahoma. Worked with Bill Newby. We were always proud to be a Sipes employee and I have many fond memories of that time. Mike Phillips