A&P History

The Early Years:

In 1859, George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman entered the mail-order tea business from a storefront and warehouse at 31 Vesey Street in New York City. The Great American Tea Company grew steadily over the next decade and was renamed The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company in 1870.

Hartford’s sons, John and George, came into the family business in the 1880s, the same decade that the company begain marketing its first private label brands, including Eight O’Clock Coffee. By the turn of the century, there were over 20 stores in the chain.

The Boom:

In 1912, the first A&P Economy Store opened. The brainchild of John Hartford, this format relied on severe cost-cutting, standardization of layout, and the elimination of credit accounts and delivery.

Economy stores were small and often located on a secondary street rather than in a more expensive Main Street location. Hartford insisted on short-term leases wit renewal options, so that the stores could pick up and move on short notice as conditions dictated. Some carried the bare minimum of produce items, and most operated with one or two employees.

Unidentified location, 1920s.

The format was wildly successful, and the chain had grown from 585 stores in 1913 to more than 4500 stores by 1920, and to over 15,000 stores all over the east coast and Midwest by 1930. In the early 1930ss, the first California stores were opened, adding some credibility to the company name.

During the 1920s, meat markets and more produce offerings were added to larger and less spartan stores, the result of an increasingly affluent clientele.

In 1929, Hartford’s sound economic policies allowed the chain to weather the stock market relatively unscathed. The 1930s, however, were difficult years, as profit margins declined and price became the primary determinant of food purchases.

The first King Kullen and Big Bear stores, widely regarded as the genesis of the supermarket area, were located in A&P’s home turf of New York and New Jersey. A&P reacted cautiously at first, finally opening a “supermarket” of its own in Braddock PA in 1936.

Rock Hill SC.

By 1939, the chain had begun to move much more decisively, operating 1100 supermarkets and closing thousands of the older “economy stores”. Between 1936 and 1940, A&P halved its number of stores (to just over 6000) while increasing its sales by more than half. By 1949, the store count was down to just over 4500, while sales had skyrocketed.

The Meltdown:

Through the 1950s, A&P continued to be America’s dominant grocery retailer (and at one point, its largest retailer of any sort), but some disturbing trends were starting to emerge. The company’s conservative policies were not in tune with the retail boom of the 1950s, and A&P’s largely urban (and aging) store base was concentrated in urban areas rather than the growing suburbs. This would be a major issue for the company in the ensuing years.

In addition, both John and George Hartford died in the 1950s, more or less ending the company’s connection to its founding family, and allowing it to go public. The Harford heirs were more concerned with large dividends than with the grocery business, and the resulting lack of investment initiated a period of stagnation from which A&P never fully recovered.

Atlanta GA. Georgia State University.

Some new stores were being constructed during this period. To celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary in 1959, the red brick cupola-ed “Centennial” prototype was unveiled. Much like Safeway’s “Marina” prototype the same year, this store design would define the company for years to come. Inexplicably, though, a high proportion of these new stores were still located in older urban areas. While other chains were moving to the suburbs in advance of their customers, A&P seemed to be running five to ten years behind the migratory patterns of its own clientele.

By the 1960s, stores were stale, sales were flat, and the midwestern and west coast divisions were struggling. A well-publicized corporate reorganization in 1968 and 1969 did little to stem the decline, and the next two decades were defined by declining sales, closing stores, and failed format changes. Among the stores closed were the entire Southern California operation, in 1969, which eliminated A&P as a contender in the fastest-growing market in the country.

The first of these new formats was A-Mart, a discount operation used in approximately 150 larger stores in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Results were mixed, and when Kmart threatened a trademark infringement lawsuit, the project was largely abandoned.

The next was WEO (for “Warehouse Economy Outlet”), a deep-discount warehouse format. The first experimental location opened in 1971 in Pennsauken NJ and performed reasonably well. The format required a larger, high-volume location. About half of A&P’s units, many of them old urban stores and small-town locations, some dating from the late 1930s, didn’t really qualify. Nevertheless, A&P opted in 1972 to try the experiment chain-wide.

Unfortunately, price was perhaps the least of A&P’s problems in the early and mid 1970s. Labor costs were high, store volumes were low (too low for a warehouse approach to work),and shoppers regarded the stores as dirty, understocked, and overpriced. And a takeover bid from Gulf-Western only complicated matters.

From 1972 to 1974, A&P closed nearly 800 stores. The real meltdown, however, came in 1975, when the chain shrank from 3400 stores to slightly more than 2000. By the end of the 1970s, A&P was operating a little over 1500 stores in the US. It was never the same again.

The Assorted “Rebirths”:

In 1979, the Hartford heirs sold a controlling interest in A&P to the Tengelmann Group of West Germany. Between 1980 and 1982, even more stores were closed, with many regions abandoned entirely, bringing the total store count below 1000 in 1982, when the company returned to profitability.

The acquisition ultimately resulted in somewhat aggressive expansion plans and yet more new store formats.

The first PLUS stores opened in 1979 and 1980, as an American adaptation of a German bare-bones discount concept. It didn’t work, and the experiment was abandoned after only a couple of years.

The Family Mart, launched in Greenville SC in 1977, was more successful. This was a combination store format in the southeast, featuring 55,000 square-foot stores selling food and general merchandise. These stores were built in selected southern markets, and performed reasonably well, although most appear to have closed by 1990.

Super Fresh was introduced in Philadelphia in 1982, emphasizing produce and customer service. This banner is still used on A&P’s mid-Atlantic stores.

A particularly interesting format was the A&P Futurestore, the first of which were opened in the New Orleans area in 1984. These upscale stores featured a stark, black and white décor, with service departments in the center of the store and a glass atrium storefront. In fact, they were very attractive units, but the Futurestore banner was retired after just a couple of years.

Also unveiled around 1985 was the Sav-a-Center banner, which was used on less upscale southern stores, some of them A&P conversions and some new construction. At one point, markets like Charlotte NC had A&P, Sav-a-Center, and Futurestore locations simultaneously. Eventually, most of the futurestores were re-branded with the dominant banner in their area.

Acquisitions during the 1980s included 17 Stop & Shop stores in New Jersey (1981), the Kohl’s chain in Wisconsin (1982), Dominion Stores in Canada (1982), Shopwell/The Food Emporium, and later Waldbaum’s, in New York (1986), and Farmer Jack in Michigan (1989).

By the 1990s, longtime house brands like Ann Page and Jane Parker had been retired. Eight O’Clock Coffee was sold off in 2003. And the somewhat healthier company operated stores under close to a dozen different names around the country.

All the same, downsizing and fine-tuning were still happening. Most southern regions, except for the New Orleans area, were finally abandoned in the late 1990s. The Kohl’s stores in Wisconsin were shuttered in 2003, and the northern New England stores were eliminated the same year. The profitable Canadian division was sold in 2005.

As of 2006, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company’s 15,000 stores had dwindled to just over 400, operating under the A&P, A&P Super Foodmart, Waldbaum’s, Food Emporium, Super Fresh, Farmer Jack, Sav-A-Center and Food Basics names. The company was geographically limited to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Michigan, Louisiana, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia. The once-proud name no longer reflects the reality of what is now a small, regional grocery chain. But the worst was yet to come. One by one, the southern and midwestern operations (including the oldest operating store in the chain on Bourbon Street in New Orleans) were sold off or scrapped, and the company became even more regional in nature. In 2007, A&P purchased rival Pathmark to expand its positioning in the region. The Canadian stores, reputedly some of the most profitable, were sold to Metro in 2009.

A 2010 bankruptcy was the beginning of the end, and was followed by more closures, although the company did emerge from bankruptcy as a privately-held concern. In July 2015, A&P filed for bankruptcy again, this time with the apparent intention of liquidating all its assets. Numerous stores were sold to Alberstons (ACME), Ahold (Stop & Shop), and Key Foods.

The final A&P locations closed by 25 November 2016, ending a 156-year retailing tradition.

Updated on 26 November 2022

One thought on “A&P History

  1. Carol

    January 7, 2019 at 10:35pm

    Looking for exterior photos of a small A&P Store that was located on the North side of 101st. Avenue in Ozone Park, Queens N.Y. in the early 1950’s.

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  2. Bill Anthony

    January 25, 2019 at 11:08pm

    The way A&P is described in this article, is not the way I remember it from the 60’s and 70’s. I miss this store, and the products it used to carry. It was a sad day indeed, when this grocery store closed its doors for the last time.

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  3. Dee

    August 6, 2019 at 11:56am

    The A&P’s that I grew up with in the early 60’s weren’t what we know of as supermarkets. They were just stores with shelves to the ceilings, maybe only two aisles wide, that had a little of everything. ONE glass door refrigerator with milk, cheese, and Maybe some bologna, liverwurst, salami, & hot dogs, all pre packed. There was no other cold cuts or meats, you had to go to a butcher a few stores away for those. One brand of coffee, store brand 8 O’Clock coffee and it was freshly ground as you wait.

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    • Mark

      June 9, 2021 at 12:39pm

      My father started with them in Rochester New Hampshire in the 40s and worked there through the ’80s. Store manager his whole career. The story started in with similar to the one you just described.

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  4. harold kenneth Miller Sr.

    November 3, 2019 at 3:24pm

    I used to work at the A & P Meat Warehouse here in Charlotte North Carolina loved working for it. Great place to work. So sorry that they shut down.

    H.K. Miller Sr.

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  5. Amy Frances LeBlanc

    November 18, 2019 at 5:33pm

    I have fond memories of A & P, both in the Chicago area and in Maine! I just discovered a little bottle of Ann Page Orange Extract that smells just as fresh as it must have done I-have-no-idea-manyyears ago! My mother, who loved to craft nonsense words and names for things and places called A & P the “Azle -Pzle” store …I have no idea how to actually spell them it!

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  6. Alan

    December 11, 2019 at 8:05pm

    I grew up on the “City Line” between Newark NJ and Elizabeth NJ. There was a A&P Supermarket there between the fifties, sixties and Early 70’s when it closed. All through the 50’s and 60’s we would steal plums, nectarines, cherries etc from the Pacific Fruit Express freight cars. At least we had a high fiber nutritious diet in those years.

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    • George G

      May 19, 2024 at 11:23am

      Do you remember the address of the city line one? Or cross street? My father in law owned a bar close by and I’m trying to find it. Thanks. GG

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  7. Mark Pelletier

    January 29, 2020 at 8:24am

    My parents worked at the A&P in Brunswick Maine in the 50’s. Can anyone get me a picture of that store?

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  8. Stanito I Rodriguez

    March 2, 2020 at 2:27pm

    Does anyone from New York City. Who grew up in the early 60’s to the early 70’s. Remember the A&P(Ann Paige) donuts. I mean. I never couldn’t believe how the taste of the glaze donuts. That came in a see through A&P donuts box. I hate those A&P donuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All these newer brand name donuts sellers. Can’t even come close to the taste of the A&P glaze donuts. It was just like the twinkies. They tasted very very good. Until the late 60’s. They added a lot of corn starch in the twinkies. And never tasted. The same anymore. Anyone from uptown New York. Know about the the A&P market on 178th Street near Broadway. Right near the Port Authority. Has been taking away. I haven’t been back to New York City since the mid seventies. A&P lives on in my thoughts.

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    • Bernie

      September 9, 2022 at 10:52pm

      Those donuts were the best! My brother and I were just talking about them the other day. Anyone have a copycat recipe for them? I know they were made with buttermilk.

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  9. Lisa Wheat

    May 9, 2020 at 11:19pm

    My Dad was Regional Manager in the New Orleans district for A&P. I remember the “Superstore”, “Superfresh” but most importantly the French Quarter location. He would tell me stories of how much liquor would sell out of that tiny store especially during Mardi Gras! They would not order refrigerated goods to have more room for beer. They had to hire NOPD officers to watch the door.

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  10. Michael Boatwright

    July 19, 2020 at 11:30am

    I worked for the A&P in Mullins SC from 1963 until 1970. I have some good memories from that time. At that time A W Crooms was the store manager and Wilson Baxley was the assistant manager, Linwood Capps was meat market manager

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  11. phil allen

    August 12, 2020 at 10:42pm

    I’m going nuts! I remember Bokar and Eight O’Clock coffees, but I can’t recall the third one–in the yellow package ..

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  12. Jean Hall

    October 10, 2020 at 6:29pm

    Red Circle?

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    • Jim O’Brien

      April 10, 2022 at 1:25pm

      That’s my vote. I worked at a store in high school.

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    • Thomas dean

      March 6, 2024 at 4:38pm

      Yes! Bokar, Eight o’Clock and Red Circle.

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  13. Alex Thompson

    October 11, 2020 at 9:54pm

    I vividly remember my parents shopping at the A&P in North Myrtle Beach, SC during the mid 80’s. I’ll always remember those large 8 o’clock coffee grinders at the end of the checkout counter. For some odd reason I remember the restrooms were upstairs in the back of the store. Nextdoor was the now long gone Western Auto. Alas time marches on, and by the mid 90’s A&P was replaced by Tomilson’s. The Western Auto became AutoZone. Today, the old A&P is now a Tuesday Morning and a asphalt parking lot replaces the Western Auto. Although you can clearly see where it once stood on Google Maps.

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  14. Lou Buell

    November 12, 2020 at 6:40pm

    Both of my parents work at the A&P Cheese Warehouse in Green Bay, WI and when it moved to Plymouth, WI where it shared a large building with the Borden’s Cheese Division. I worked summers at the warehouse during college. Plymouth, WI also had an A&P Store that was the most popular in the area. Also, in Manitowoc, WI A&P had their Butter Division.

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  15. Robin Chambers

    November 14, 2020 at 8:35pm

    My brothers and I have happy memories of the Ann Page coconut macaroons that my dad brought home. Does anyone else remember them? They were shaped like cupcakes, but were crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. As I recall they came in a box of 6 with clear cellophane on top.
    Does the A and P have a museum or someplace where they might have kept the old recipes?

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    • Kati McCarron

      August 2, 2022 at 9:07pm

      Robin! Is there any chance that you ever found this recipe? My mom is battling cancer so her appetite is messed up. She keeps talking about these exact coconut macaroon “cupcakes” from A&P she used to get but I can’t find the recipe. Would love to make them for her.

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  16. William Marshall

    December 4, 2020 at 12:52pm

    My dad started and worked up to be a manager at numerous stores in Michigan. I also worked for A&P until I left the company in 1972 to move to California. I enjoyed my experience working with them and I am in the process of building a A&P warehouse on my model railroad.

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  17. Robert Sater

    April 14, 2021 at 8:23pm

    Looking for a picture of the A&P market at the intersection of York Boulevard and Avenue 57 in Highland Park,California. I visited the store with my mother during WWII. It most likely closed during the 1950’s.

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  18. Art Melville

    January 10, 2022 at 7:02am

    I can “VAGUELY-REMEMBER” standing in “LINE”, with “MY-MOM” holding my “HAND” in 1953, “WAITING” while they “GROUND”, “FRESH-COFFE” for “HER” at the “A & P”, in “BELLEVILLE”, “NEW JERSEY”, on “FRANKLIN AVENUE” in 1953 at the “AGE” of “4”!!! I “DISTINCTLY-REMEMBER” in 1959, “SITTING” in “MY-MOM”S-CAR”, waiting “OUTSIDE” in the “SAME”, “A & P”, “PARKING=LOT”, when a “BRAND-NEW”, “WHITE”, “TWO-DOOR-HARDTOP”, “1959”, “PLYMOUTH”, “SPRT-FURY” with “SWIVEL-SEATS”, “PULLED-UP” along side “ME” & “PARKED”!!! “WHAT-WONDERFUL”, “CHILDHOOD-MEMORIES” i “HAVE”, just as “MANY-PEOPLE”, “BEFORE” & “AFTER-ME-HAVE”!!! “SADLY”, “NOT-ONLY” is the “A & P” on “FRANKLIN AVENUE” now ‘GONE”, but so is the “BUILDING”, to be ‘REPLACED” by a “BRAND-NEW”, “DRIVE-THROUGH”, “WENDY”S”-RESTAURANT”!!! “BUT”, i “STIIL-LIVE” in “BELLEVILLE” & “EVERY-CHANCE” iI get, I-TELL-PEOPLE”, “ALL-ABOUT”, “WHAT-ONCE”, “STOOD-THERE” & “ALMOST-EVERY-TIME”, they “REACT” with “GREAT-SURPRISE”!!! I am a “RETIRED-TEACHER” of “AMERICAN HISTORY” my “NAME” is “Art Melville” & I always use to “INTRODUCE-MYSELF” to my “NEW STUDENTS” as: “MR. “MELVILLE” from “BELLEVILLE”!!! “THANK YOU” for “ALLOWING” an “OLD-GUY” to “CARRY-ON” about the “PAST” & “REMINICE”!!! “Art”

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  19. Dixie Recht

    February 19, 2022 at 8:42pm

    Fond memories of my teenage years working at the A&P in Decatur, GA in the 1980s. I started bagging groceries, but quickly worked my way up thanks to store manager Mike Oxlong who saw a lot of potential in me. I spent more time in the back of the store making sure Mike was pleased with my performance. He saw me eating a snickers bar on my break one day and told me that his hairy elephant wanted the peanuts, but I already ate the last bite so the hairy elephant had to go inside me to fish them out. When he was done he said he changed me from a snickers bar to a Little Debbie Ho Ho. I thought it was funny and we both laughed. Great memories!

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  20. Anthony J Moffa

    September 8, 2022 at 6:19pm

    I worked at Superfresh in Philadelphia during the 80s. More like Superstale.

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  21. Janice Hunter

    April 16, 2023 at 8:18pm

    Looking for exterior photo of A &P store, Conneautville, Pa. My mother worked there appeox. 1940.

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  22. TED

    July 25, 2023 at 10:08am

    I see they had a auto unloader for your cart at the checkout. How did that work?

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  23. Diane Kalnasky

    March 6, 2024 at 7:35pm

    As a kid in the 1950’s, my family did our grocery shopping at the A&P store on South Main St., Norwalk, CT. One of my older sisters worked there. I can remember having the check-out counter full of food for the week for $25.00. Pot roast was $2.50. I remember this Spanish raisin bar cake that was so delicious. We would get big dill pickles from the pickle barrel. And every week, my parents would buy me another book of the latest encyclopedia set they were selling. Actually, I just found and bought a fairy tale book I also had from A&P. But I’ve been looking for years for a little cheesecake A&P sold. It came in a small box. When we sliced it, it would make a “sss” sound because it was so moist. What really made it special was that it actually tasted like cheese! I can still taste it, and I haven’t found any cheesecake like that since then. Whatever company made it is probably long gone, but it would be nice just to know what the company’s name was.

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