Abner A. Wolf – Park # 48

It’s 2017 now and I cannot imagine that this park could still exist.  In 2015 when I wrote this it was unused except for dumping and in a really creepy place.  I’ll have to check it out soon. ag


Abner A. Wolf (b.1892) came from humble beginnings.  At the age of 12, he began sweeping the floor in his father Joseph’s store, squeezing algebras problems into his free moments at work.  In 1912, he paid $50 for a cart and a horse.  He took his remaining $350 savings and purchased merchandise to start his own small grocery on Joseph Campau in Hamtramck.  He was 20.  Within three years, he had enough money and customers to move to a bigger space across the street.  

Wolf used innovative techniques to bring in customers and lower overall costs, as well as prices.  He pioneered self-service [customer’s helping themselves] in his stores and the use of adding machines to tally orders.  Eventually, he opened 13 “Rock Bottom Stores” – a discount grocery whose title referenced customer’s savings.  From this he grew a cash and carry wholesale business selling unbroken cases of dry goods to small dealers.  In 1947, Wolf was grossing $18,000,000 yearly.  He began offering classes in efficiency to his metropolitan distributors so they too could get ahead.

The before picture
Abner Wolf Playground before a mowing …beautiful sky in this photo


By the 1950’s, Abner A. Wolf Inc. was grossing $100,000,000.  Wolf morphed into ‘Mr. Big’ – the world’s largest wholesale dry grocer and the world’s largest distributor of brand name foods.  With all of the success, Abner always remembered the customer and the independent Detroit grocer.  He helped many immigrants start their own successful grocery businesses.

Wolf courtsey of BC
Abner himself. Courtesy of the DPL Burton Collection.

Albert Cobo, a high school friend and then Mayor of Detroit told the newspapers, “Abner recognized the need of the independent merchants.  He showed them that through organization they could buy in quantity and distribute at a price that would enable them to compete with the biggest chain”.

Abner’s success peaked in 1955 when he merged his business with three others to form Wrigley Supermarkets – a $350 million dollar score.  He retired in the late 1960’s and moved to Florida.  He left this lifetime in September 1974.

Wolf himself once declared, “..only in America can a man rise from humble beginnings to make a place for himself at the top.”


Abner Wolf before a clean-up
Wolf Playground after a clean sweep.  Wolf once owned the largest dry goods warehouse in the entire United States.. perhaps that was his property on the other side of the fence.  I never took time to check the directories. 


Interestingly, the Abner Wolf playground is located on an out-of-the way dead end street backing to commercial warehouses and a railroad line.  It was once known as the Decatur – Van Buren Play Lot.

In May 2015, when I visited this small park, the street was littered with illegal dumping.  The park was overgrown and the play equipment was outdated.  I thought it to be a sad, odd location.  Records indicate the land was donated by the family of Abner Wolf.  

Yet here’s another coincidental thought..  Last summer, while I was walking my dog Steve, I stopped to chat with a homeowner whose house backs up to the RR tracks in my neighborhood.  I asked the man “if living near the tracks was noisy?”  He told me a great story:  “I love living so close to the RR tracks because it reminds me of my childhood.  I grew up in Kentucky and when we heard the sound of the train, we would get excited.  Often the shelves at the local store would be empty, so the whistle of the train meant that food was on its way.”  

While his answer might not be relevant in this instance, this park location makes perfect sense to me now.

The playground is south of Joy Road and at the dead end of Van Buren Street.. the dead end in the center of the map ..if you zoom in on the map it will appear. 

Copyright 2015, Andrea Gallucci