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.