Wednesday, August 05, 2015

1521 So Long to the A&P

1521 So Long to the A&P

If dingy were a fashion statement, the A&P would be Coco Chanel.  From its lofty perch as a retail pioneer to its long road down to bankruptcy, there’s no more familiar a name than this first generation and possibly actual first supermarket.

But it’s been decades since the original grand opening in 1859 and almost as long since there’s been anything great about the “Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company.”

Mention this outfit and a frequent reply is “oh, are they still around.”  Yes.  Sort of.

They’ll be closing or selling off most of their stores.  This will mean a boom in the population of homeless rats and roaches whose breeding grounds will thus be freed of inspection.

Along with their A&P Stores, the company owns Waldbaum’s, Pathmark, Food Emporium and some other less nameable names.  They are the 34th largest retailer of any kind in the US. At their peak, they operated 4,000 stores.  And that peak was in 1950, when competition was slimmer and some newer mass marketers weren’t yet a gleam in anyone’s eye.

When the original owners -- mostly a family trust -- sold the whole mess to an outfit in Germany, no one noticed a difference. At least not right away.  When the company went on that buying binge, Pathmark, Waldbaum’s etc., things began to slide.  Wal-mart’s entry into the field didn’t help. Nor did the warehouse and “club” stores.

Understand a few things about supermarkets:

-they work on the narrowest of narrow margins.
-many are in high rent districts.
-many are unionized which means higher wages but smaller crews, often inadequately smaller.  Baggers who work only for tips in some locations often out-earn regular part timers and don’t pay taxes.
-worker turnover reaches highway speed.

And, yes, you feel squeezed at the register.  Why are prices so high when the growers and ranchers and markets make so little?  Because there are a million middlemen lopping on added costs.

As in the clothing business, a piece of uncooked food goes through dozens of hands before it lands on your back or your dining room table.

So operating a supermarket is usually a register to register hand to mouth operation. What’s most surprising about A&P’s exit is not that it’s happening but that it didn’t happen decades ago.

But there’s an upside to this story.  Awhile back they spun off their coffee division and it now supplies independent and other mass marketers nationwide.  Which means fans of Eight O’Clock will still be able to buy it.  “Eight” has a lot of fans and for good reason.  

Meantime, anyone want a large collection of Plaid Stamps?

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2015

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