Meijer’s whimsical pineapple of discovery

When Grand Rapids-based Meijer decided to expand the reach of its Michigan hypermarkets to a trio of new states in the early 1990s, officials decided that a unique aesthetic was necessary to introduce their massive stores to a new batch of customers. There’s little that can be done to make a 200,000-square-foot building unique, but Meijer did just that, in large part through the use of a pineapple.

The pineapple at the Muncie, Indiana Meijer. Photo taken February 25, 2023.

Pineapples have been symbols of hospitality in America for centuries since early colonists began importing them from the Caribbean. That was a tricky process in the 1700s1! Meijer, meanwhile, was founded by a Dutch immigrant named Hendrik Meijer in Greenville, Michigan, during the Great Depression. Hendrik, his son, Frederik, and his wife, Gezina, opened several more grocery stores in the 1940s before the company launched its first hypermarket in 1962. Known as Thrifty Acres, the 180,000-square-foot behemoth combined supermarket fare and department store goods under one massive roof.

This ad for Meijer’s Thrifty Acres hypermarket, featuring sliced and crushed pineapple, appeared on page nine of the Holland Evening Sentinel’s November 21, 1962 edition.

In 1962, Meijer advertised cans of crushed and sliced pineapple at 17- and 18 cents, respectively. Of course, upside-down pineapples have another meaning entirely. I doubt that entered the mind of Fred Meijer, though: he was a thrifty, down-to-earth executive who inherited the company in 1964 and preferred to wear his own store’s private-label clothes despite being worth $350 million in 19912.

A 1980s Meijer “solarium” hypermarket in Midland, Michigan. Public domain photo.

Meijer successfully expanded from Michigan to Ohio in 1981. Most of the company’s stores from that period featured a long solarium of curved glass between their two main entrances. By the early 1990s, Meijer was crushing K-Mart and Walmart, which opened its last hypermarket in 19903.

A modern Meijer hypermarket in Warren, Michigan. Public domain photo.

Walmart and K-Mart were, by and large, big boring boxes. Supermarkets like Kroger and Marsh were easily identifiable due to their greenhouses and unique aesthetics. Meijer embraced a different, playful look as it planned to expand to Indiana: the company’s first Indiana store at Grape Road in Mishawaka opened in 1994, featuring a gamut of unique elements to break up its monolithic scale and become, as someone on Wikipedia wrote, a “store of discovery” for its new customers with a “whimsical” design. Part of that was the pineapple. 

The pineapple at the Muncie, Indiana Meijer. Photo taken February 25, 2023.

Wamart’s failed hypermarket concept, Hypermart USA, featured a food court with franchised operations such as Taco John’s, Corn Dog 7, and Subway. Meijer’s new slate of stores did too, with company-owned restaurants like Fred’s American Grill, Wonton’s, Pizza Pan, and the Purple Cow, an ice cream shop4. The pineapple, a semicircular block-and-glass atrium, provided a common seating area for each restaurant. My hometown Meijer, in Muncie, featured the Purple Cow, Pizza Pan, and McDonald’s5.

Meijer on Cleveland Road in South Bend, along with its pineapple. This store is a mirror image of Muncie’s. Public domain photo.

It doesn’t look like it now, but those atriums were honest-to-goodness pineapples. It was originally painted yellow and fit right in with Meijer’s classic color scheme! Here’s the Meijer on Cleveland Road in South Bend sporting its pineapple in its initial livery. The blocks at the top even feature reliefs of the fruit stamped into them. It is whimsical, at least in comparison to, say, a Sam’s Club or a Cub Foods.

The pineapple at the Muncie, Indiana Meijer. Photo taken February 25, 2023.

I’ve done a lot of research, but the only legitimate article outside of Wikipedia I’ve found that associates the phrase “store of discovery” or the word “whimsical” with “Meijer” was about Fred Meijer’s business cards, which entitled the recipient to a free Meijer ice cream cone6. Most of the information about Meijer’s store designs comes from unsourced Wikis, while many timelines, such as those on Retailpedia and UrbanPlanet, seem to have been written by the same author. Nevertheless, Meijer stores built from 1994 to 1996 have taken on the colloquial designation of “Pineapple” models, as seen from disparate users on YouTubeWikimedia, and Flickr, so I’m rolling with that terminology.

The entrance to a 1990s “pineapple” Meijer garden center in Muncie, Indiana. Photo taken February 25, 2023.

Meijer’s other new hypermarkets in Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky featured the same architectural characteristics. Many featured an open, square, turret that signified the entryway to each store’s outdoor garden center. Just past that were a series of staggered pyramidal roofs over the entrance to the department-store side of the establishment.

A cross-gabled roof near the Muncie Meijer’s eastern entrance. Photo taken February 25, 2023.

The central area surrounding each store’s thirty-eight checkout stations was illuminated by a glass curtain wall, while their supermarket entrances were capped by a cross-gabled roof set at a forty-five degree angle. Smaller, pyramidal skylights broke up the rest of the store’s frontage and provided additional visual intrigue. Those interesting elements were important, since the exterior walls of each superstore were simple, prefabricated, concrete sandwich panels prefabricated in Minneapolis that took only ten days to erect once on site7.

A pineapple Meijer in its original color scheme, as seen on Cleveland Road in South Bend, Indiana. Public domain photo.

All these elements converged to establish Meijer as a unique place to shop. When Meijer came to Muncie, the company’s senior real estate representative, Jeffrey Bond, advised that Meijer’s store design had evolved over the past several years, saying that the company’s Indiana hypermarkets wouldn’t look like a Kmart or a Walmart and had a “village shops theme” on the exterior.

“It’s like you’re entering a shop instead of a large, industrial building or warehouse,” Bond asserted. “There are little roofs over the entrances. There’s some relief to it, some depth. They are really quite nice-looking for such a large building8.” 

The eastern portion of Muncie’s Meijer superstore. Photo taken February 25, 2023.

Those fantastical elements of Muncie’s Meijer captured my attention at a young age. My family generally shopped at Marsh, but we must have gone to Meijer shortly after Muncie’s opened in 1995. I remember badgering kids in kindergarten to help me build a replica of it with wooden blocks instead of something more interesting! That was around 1996, the year that Meijer’s last pineapple store was constructed near Delaware, Ohio. Afterwards, the company soon moved on to what the wikis call the “Presidential” style, which employed a symmetrical layout with a centered Meijer logo between two entrances. One store with that design is in Indianapolis on East 96th Street.

The Meijer grocery in Lake Orion, Michigan. Image courtesy Wikimedia user 42-BRT under the CC BY-SA 4 license.

In 2019, Muncie’s Meijer underwent a $3.3 million renovation that, among other things, repainted the store’s exterior to a more sleek look that eliminated the reds and yellows in favor of blues and grays. Meanwhile, other superstores like the Meijer in Kokomo have been remodeled to remove the pineapple altogether. Although Meijer’s pineapple is gone in spirit, it’s still here in physical form- at least for now. Meanwhile, Meijer continues to lead the way: the company has some confusing stake in the specialty grocer Fresh Thyme and has begun to open new, grocery-only stores like this one in Lake Orion, Michigan. Noblesville will have one soon.

A 1772 illustration of a Ananas comosus pineapple. See the resemblance? Public domain image.

Today it seems like the majority of businesses feature the same boring, boxy designs that Meijer’s Pineapple series of hypermarkets attempted to disrupt. In an era of sameness, let’s celebrate a past generation of whimsy while it still exists, even if that’s at the local big-box store. In that spirit I say thank you, Whimsical Meijer Pineapple of Discovery, for all continue to inspire.

Sources Cited
1 Symbol of Hospitality. The Significance of the Pineapple (n.d.) Eberly College of Business. Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Web. Retrieved February 25, 2023.
2 Bohman, J. (1991, June 30). Meijer shunts traditional image of rich, glitzy boss. The South Bend Tribune. p. 59.
3 Phillips, D. (1995, April 30). Meijer set to enter retail ring. Kokomo Tribune. p. 24.
4 Slabaugh, S. (1994, March 13). McGalliard entrance not big concern. The Muncie Star. p. 12.
5 Penticuff, D. (1995, March 9). Golden Arches’ fit inside Meijer. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 22.
6 Rand, B. (1995, August 22). Meijer’s tradition is all about growing. The Lafayette Journal and Courier. p. 10.
7 Shook oversees construction of local Meijer stores (1994, June 14). The Indianapolis News. p. 80. 
8 (See footnote 4).

4 thoughts on “Meijer’s whimsical pineapple of discovery

  1. The 38th Street Meijer in Indy, opened in 1994, is a pineapple store. I had just moved to Indy and less than a half mile away as it opened. I remember the picket lines because Meijer was non-union.


    The Whitestown Meijer opened in probably 2016 or so, and it’s a symmetrical store.

    Whitestown Meijer

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those new stores are slick, though they suffer a little from fast food box syndrome. One nearby in Marion was built around 2015/16 and is a variation.

      I’ll be a little sad when the pineapple stores finally bite it.


  2. I think the Lafayette store is a pineapple store too. You have to love the 90s when you could drive your purple minivan to a store with a pineapple on the front.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe you’re right! Though none of them were purple, Dad, Howard/Hayes, Joe, and Dave all owned green Caravans at various points during my childhood:) later, my parents had a used one I crashed into a trash dumpster.

      You’re almost caught up! Thank you for going above and beyond.

      Liked by 1 person

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