The A&P pictured above is probably more important to me than any other supermarket in the world.
Why? Because it was my “first”. By that, I don’t mean that it was the first supermarket I ever visited, but that it was the first old supermarket that I became obsessed with as a child. As such, this website was born at that old A&P in downtown Greensboro.
The location at 221 Commerce Place was the site of Greensboro’s first A&P self-service supermarket. The company had operated traditional stores in the city since 1910, but on 10 March 1938, the supermarket opened in a former tobacco warehouse next door to the city’s farmers’ market. The store burned down in 1946, and was replaced with a new store which opened on 16 June 1947.
The 13,500 square foot store featured such “modern features” as a candy department, refrigerated produce section, a self-service delicatessen, and eight checkout stands. A 2500-item selection was available to the discerning housewife of 1947.
Commerce Place was A&P’s top sales unit in the Carolinas for many years, and its manager said in an interview that it wasn’t losing money even at the end. It survived as one of two downtown A&P stores in Greensboro until its closing on 17 February 1973. The other downtown location closed two years later as part of A&P’s major meltdown of 1975.
This store fascinated me as a small child. I remember it as being old and dark, with ancient refrigerator cases with rounded glass, and old fixtures and counters, many of which might well have been original. It was particularly interesting for me because my mother had, as a child, lived for several years in a long-since demolished house a few doors down with her grandmother.
My childhood love for this store (and my disappointment when it closed) led me to be interested in other old supermarkets in Greensboro and elsewhere. I started eyeing old Colonial stores and the midblock Bi-Rite in a streetcar strip near UNCG. I noticed ancient A&P survivors on trips to Atlanta and other cities. During my years in California, my obsession grew to include the Marina- and pylon-style Safeway stores, among others. The fact that so many had been demolished or (like Commerce Place, above) remodeled into such bland and uninspiring structures also made me want to preserve what images I could, because I was interested and didn’t really think anyone else was.
Thus, Groceteria.com was born as a result of an old A&P in Greensboro NC that closed when I was eight years old. And just this weekend, I finally found the vintage photos above and several newspaper articles about “my first store” and wanted to share them here.