Thursday, October 29, 2009

Happy Anniversary A&P!

By Judy Chamberlain

During a recent trip to the A & P, I purchased some house blend coffee that came in a commemorative tin. The can’s copy heralds the dates 1859-2009 because the self-service chain is celebrating 150 years of service. The photo imprinted on the can reminded me of the small and simple A & P we once frequented, and the date triggered my memory back to 1960, when the new A & P supermarket finally opened its doors.

According to its website, nearly 150 years ago The Great American Tea Company opened a store on Vesey Street in New York City and began selling tea, coffee and spices at value prices. Soon stores sprang up all around the metropolitan area and salesmen took their wares on the road in horse-drawn carriages bound for New England, the mid-west and the south. In 1869 the Company was renamed The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, in honor of the first transcontinental railroad and hopes of expanding across the continent.

The original Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company in Hastings began selling groceries in the 1920s, and it was located on the west side of Warburton Avenue. Although I don’t remember much about the interior at this location, I do remember the strong aroma of coffee that wafted from a large coffee grinder that was located near the cash register. And I also remember the pincers, a long handled device that the clerks used to manipulate and grab items off the top shelves, Although the A & P was generally self-service, both the grinder and the pincers required an assistant’s help; watching these tools in operation made going to the grocery store a more interesting experience.

Two photographs of Warburton Avenue from 1936 spliced together show the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company's first home on the west side of Warburton Avenue, in the spot occupied today by Hastings Coin Laundry.

Many years of discussion and review went into building a modern supermarket in Hastings. It started in 1955 with a proposal by A & P to build on the site of the former Chrystie estate flower and vegetable gardens at the corner of Main Street and Broadway. It was a hot topic for debate, and differences in opinion escalated into a great supermarket battle that divided residents. Was the convenience of having groceries, meats, produce, baked goods, health and beauty aides, and other household items under one roof, worth the traffic and congestion that would result? Other sites were considered, but the supermarket was finally built on the originally proposed lot.

The supermarket opened to great fanfare on October 25th of 1960. Now why would I, still in middle school, remember the opening? Orchids. My girlfriends and I walked down after school on the opening day because word got around that they were giving away Hawaiian orchids to all the women customers. We were curious. Would they give a group of preteen girls exotic flowers from our newest state? They did--a small, lavender blue beauty for each. While inside, of course we explored, bought snacks, checked out the record department, sampled bakery treats, and browsed through the shelves of items at reachable heights. This new A & P was pretty fine.

The "new" A&P grocery store on the corner of Main Street and Broadway. When this photograph was taken, in the 1980s, A&P faced Main Street.

Author's Note: If you would like to learn more about “The Saga of the Supermarket,” stop by the cottage and read Mary Allison’s wonderful article in the Fall 1995 issue of the Hastings Historian.
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  1. I well remember going to the A&P on Warburton as a little kid with my mother. Even now when I smell fresh ground coffee it takes me back to that small store with it's butcher counter, screen doors, wood floors and pressed tin ceiling.
    Bill Ewen

  2. I do remember these old wooden square shafted prehensile pole "grabbers" at the A&P, that were also used at Riolo's and Manor Markets. The A&P had their own brands such as Ann Page. Their cinnamon bread was loaded with large cinnamon swirls and was really scrumptious when toasted. Groceries were in the center and to the left, with produce towards the front right. And yes, the red coffee grinder at the register was the biggest treat. I thought that there were two, but maybe not. My family would often drive to Dobbs Ferry and shop at their old store instead of the new Hastings one. My neighbor Al Spiegel, brother Melvin and family turned the old A&P into Al's Market and kept it pretty much the same including the butcher shop in the rear managed by John Jadkowski another neighbor.

    I believe that the new A&P marked the beginning of the downfall of the ice cream parlors, (see Judy's great blog story Ice Cream Memories of August 24, 2009), providing Crestmont (A&P brand) half gallon containers, toppings, frozen fruit, nuts and sprinkles in a one-stop shopping venue, and encouraged people to buy frozen orange juice instead of the bags of squeezing oranges. The supermarket also began to make local milk delivery from Dellwood and Emmadine Farms unprofitable. Additionally, the new store's existence had an impact on the local fruit and vegetable sellers such as Ferrera's next to Hastings Electric. It did have a predictable impact on the local merchants. No wonder there was controversy.

    My favorite memory of the Main Street A&P was of the location before the construction. We the old Christy garden as the "Brook" and played there every summer. During construction, when the workers would leave, we would explore the basement foundation and play war games. Also, walking East under the new building through the length of the 4' diameter drainage tunnel in a stooped position, we would ultimately end up at the square tunnel under broadway that led to the lower ballfield. Walking under Broadway was a lot of fun - a little scary - and carrying a makeshift torch we saw all kinds of things such as frogs, sometimes rats and anything that made it's way down from the "Three Islands" at Childrens Village. The new A&P tunnel also continued south from the rear of the old Gulf Station under main street and provided a unique view of the Youth Center from the end of the pipe. A white marble tombstone was dug up when the Main Street extension was installed replacing the older smaller one. It sat at the rear of the property for years then vanished. I often wondered what happened to it. Perhaps one of you know?

    Bob Russell

  3. So many of us have beautiful memories of our local A&P's growing up. I think those of us who grew up with A&P, just know how very special A&P is.

    It was everything to a small kid. Their clerks were always courteous, and really helped me with my math skills. They would help me count my dollar bills and change. My first solo retail experiences were shopping for my Mom at our local A&P.

    I have collected all of the eight specially marked 150th anniversary items. The quality of each of them is what we have come to always expect from Great A&P.

    I just wished they had some special Penguin ice cream or jane parker potato chip promotion as well. Great memories from a great supermarket.

  4. Thanks Andy, Bill & Bob! Your memories bring the old A&P back to life!

  5. Just an update. It's been a little over 15 months since these posts, and on December 12, 2010,the Great A&P declared bankruptcy . It is reorganizing under Chapter 11 and has shed more than 70 supermarket locations during that period. Improvements are planned in customer experience in the coming weeks along with value pricing and heavy promotion of its exclusive house brands like Via Roma, GreenWay, Live Better, Food Emporium Trading Company, Hartford Reserve, Food Basics, Home Basics, Preferred Pet, Market Spa, and America's Choice.

  6. Thanks, Andy! We were so relieved to hear that the Hastings supermarket was not going to be one of the ones closed. It's hard to imagine Hastings without one.