NOTE: This story was originally published in Issue #6 (May 26, 2015), and then it was posted online at Akron Empire, the local blog co-founded by Joanna Wilson, who wrote this piece and is the author of “Triple Dog Dare”, “The Story of Archie” and “A is for Akron” (with Karen Starr). We’re posting this now because Joanna will be signing and selling books at Signal Tree Fest on Sat., July 29 and we’re hosting, also at Signal Tree Fest, the Lawson’s Blindfold Taste Challenge. Enjoy!
photos and words by Joanna Wilson, Akron Empire
I hosted a party a few weeks back and made sure to include a tub of Lawson’s chip dip on the snack table. What Akron party is complete without Lawson’s chip dip, right? But why did I need to go to Circle K to buy another convenience store’s product? This is the question that lead me to seek out a logical answer.
While I’m old enough to remember Lawson’s convenience stores on what seemed like every corner in the greater Akron area, what I didn’t know was that Lawson’s began right here. During the Depression, dairy businessman James “J.J.” Lawson was looking for a way to cut costs, making the bold decision to eliminate milkman delivery service and the necessary bill collection it came with in order to pass on the savings on to his customers. Starting in 1939, customers could visit The Lawson Milk Company store at the corner of the dairy plant in Cuyahoga Falls and fill a gallon jug of milk, saving themselves 16 cents. Lawson’s business plan was a success and he could barely keep up with the demand. Soon branch stores were opened. The industry took notice when milk was cheaper in Akron than any other major market throughout the country. In 1958, after 20 years, Lawson sold his company which included almost 200 stores to a national firm, Consolidated Foods.
Consolidated Foods expanded the Lawson’s stores to more than 700 and eventually sold them in the mid-80s, at which point they became Dairy Marts. The convenience stores were sold again in 2002 and became Circle K stores. Despite the change in company ownership, there continues to be a huge demand for Lawson’s chip dip. Dairymens Dairy in Cleveland now makes it and it continues to be carried in local Circle K stores. And, that ladies and gentlemen, is why every Akron party needs Lawson’s chip dip.
This is where the history of Lawson’s gets weird.
In the mid-1970s, Consolidated Foods signed a deal with a Japanese company to expand the Lawson’s convenience stores overseas. That is why you can visit Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and China today and shop at what they call Lawson (and Lawson Station) in more than 12,000 locations. More recently, they have expanded into Hawaii. If you’re wondering if you can buy Lawson’s chip dip in Japan, the answer is ‘no.’ Only Circle K carries it.