Grocery store or market? What do you call it and why?

We got into a discussion over the holiday about why some of us call it a grocery store and some call it a market. I’m referring to supermarkets in general, but any place with a full line of products…… from Trader Joe’s to Kroger/Safeway.

Usually these things are based on where you grew up but I’m from New York and my wife is from California, and we both call it a market. Others in the discussion were born and raised in Arizona and called it a grocery store. Google says that, technically, full line stores are supermarkets and only places like ‘green grocers’ are grocery stores…… but everything I found says most people use the terms interchangeably.

So why do some call it one thing and others the other? It doesn’t seem to be as geographically based as soda vs pop or bag vs sack. It’s likely just one of those ‘it is because it is’ things but I was curious.

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I tend use the term “grocery store” for places that are open all of the time. I would use the term “market” for seasonal produce and other food sold by growers/bakers/cheesemakers etc. (as in farmer’s market), also seafood market where fresh fish and shellfish are sold - whether seasonal or year round.


Growing up in Culver City, it was a Safeway (and sometimes Mayfair). When I moved out to Santa Monica, it was a Pavillion’s (a higher end Von’s), and an independent Fireside Market, and when I relocated to Carlsbad, it was a Von’s. Now that I am in the Sierra, it’s back to Safeway.

I have always considered them supermarkets.

I use the terms supermarket and grocery store interchangeably. Never market, unless it’s the greenmarket, in which I case I call it the greenmarket.


Thinking about this a bit more… in Culver City we had a great butcher shop (Chudakof’s - now gone), an Italian market (Sorrento - still there I think), and in Santa Monica there was an Italian market (Bay Cities - still there). All of them “great”, and I consider them markets.

I think of the big places as supermarkets (Safeway, Kroger, etc.) and the smaller places (Natural Grocers, Sprouts, local independent grocers, etc.) as grocery stores. I tend to just call them all “the store” whenever I’m saying I’m going to get some food.


I call them supermarkets because that’s what we call them in the UK. The small, possibly independently owned, places are convenience stores.

That’s one of only two situations, I can think of, where we’d generally use “store” - the other being a department store (like, say, Sears in the American context or John Lewis in the British)

Most of the time, grocery or store and used interchangeably.

Specialty stores are the meat market or the co-op (our local produce co-op)

Usually grocery store or supermarket here. Market would not be used unless there was a qualifier in front of it:

  • super
  • Italian
  • meat
  • farmers’

98% = market
2% = grocery store

Fewer syllables.

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Growing up there were no Supermarkets (ones that hold food and perhaps kitchen items and storage solutions) close to us.

I grew up calling it a Market because it was one area with a Farmer’s market (vegetable stalls and separate venders for Butcher, Cheese etc).
So we were off to the Market.

We had one Grocery Store (where one could pick up the essentials canned goods, dry goods, meat, bread, dairy and vegetables). The offerings were limited so hence a Grocery Store.

We now have Supermarkets that sell everything under the sun including boardgames and clothing so a mini Warehouse type store.

I’m from the generation where toy stores were individual entities and a real treat to go visit when we were out and about.

If I’m heading to a Specialty Store then I refer to it as a Shop/Store (one that stocks meat and deli cuts as well as dry/can goods and dairy items) or a Deli. So Italian Shop, Polish Deli/Store.
I rarely use the word Market unless it is a Farmer’s market.

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Usually it’s, “I’m going to Heinen’s”. If I’m not actually going there then it’s grocery store because that’s what it’s always been called in my neck of the woods (NE Ohio).


I usually just lump all supermarket types (Kroger and the like) as “grocer” or “grocery”. I don’t think I ever refer to them, mentally or verbally, as a “supermarket”.

I mostly reserve “market” for specialty type shops and farmer’s markets.

In my experience it seems more of a small town vs. urban divide, with urbanites using “market” for supermarket and rural/small town folks using “grocery” for supermarket.


I just don’t think it has to do with population.
We always said grocery store in the Midwest no matter the size.
Markets were item specific.
Charlie’s farmers market was something I grew up going to, for instance, even though it was in the city.

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Growing up in NYC outer boroughs, we said we were “going food shopping”. My mom still uses this term and has passed it on to my sisters, me, and my nieces.
Now Grandma differed on this usage. She would say she was “going to Bohack”. Bohack closed sometime in the mid 1970s, but she used this as her word for food shopping until she passed in 2013.


Growing up NYC suburbs in the 60’s it was always “the store” or the name-- A&P or Grand Union. (Do they even exist now?) Now in Maine it’s the same but “Hannafords”, Shaw’s, or TJ’s. Never Whole Paycheck. Market Basket finally opened up a Portland store but it’s out of the way for us.


Sadly, both A&P and Grand Union are long gone.

I call it HEB.

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Yup. That fits our experience this weekend. But it seems there’s much more cross-use than would be explained by that without everyone adding more specifics about their background.

My father’s first language was Spanish, but when talking to his relatives he would give directions such as “a la izquierda a la supermarket” . (He would also say things like, “Vamos a camping.”)

I do refer to small Hispanic grocery stores around here as bodegas. (But not Indian grocery stores–not sure why.)

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