The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company


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The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, better known as A&P, was an American chain of grocery stores that ceased supermarket operations in November 2015, after 156 years in business. From 1915 through 1975, A&P was the largest food/grocery retailer in the United States (until 1965, the largest U.S. retailer of any kind). A&P was considered an American icon that according to The Wall Street Journal "was as well known as McDonalds or Google is today" and that A&P was "Walmart before Walmart." Known for innovation, A&P and the supermarkets that followed its lead significantly improved nutritional habits by making available a vast assortment of food products at much lower costs. Until 1982, A&P also was a large food manufacturer. In his 1952 book, American Capitalism, John Kenneth Galbraith cited A&Ps manufacturing strategy as a classic example of countervailing power that was a welcome alternative to state price controls. Founded in 1859 by George Gilman as "Gilman & Company", within a few years it opened a small chain of retail, tea, and coffee stores in New York City and operated a national mail order business. The firm grew to 70 stores by 1878 when Gilman passed management to George Huntington Hartford, who turned A&P into the countrys first grocery chain. In 1900, it operated almost 200 stores. After Hartford acquired ownership, A&P grew dramatically by introducing the economy store concept in 1912, growing to 1,600 stores in 1915. After World War I, it added stores that offered meat and produce, while expanding manufacturing. In 1930, A&P, now the worlds largest retailer, reached $2.9 billion in sales with 16,000 stores. In 1936, it adopted the self-serve supermarket concept and opened 4,000 larger stores (while phasing out many of its smaller units) by 1950. A&Ps decline began in the early 1950s when it failed to keep pace with competitors that opened larger supermarkets with more modern features demanded by customers. By the 1970s, A&P stores were outdated; its efforts to combat high operating costs resulted in poor customer service. In 1975, it hired outside management, closing older stores, and building modern ones. When these efforts failed to turn A&P around, the heirs of the Hartford family, and the Hartford foundation that owned a majority of the stock, sold to the Tengelmann Group of Germany. In 1981, A&P launched its second store-closing program financed by the surplus assets of its employee pension plan, reducing the corporation to less than 1,000 stores. The plan also closed manufacturing operations except coffee production.