In 1859, 26-year-old George Huntington Hartford and his partner, George Gilman, experimented with the idea of selling loose tea for 30 cents a pound out of their storefront on Vesey Street in Manhattan. Their food stores would all be known for their flaming red façades with cupolas and red roosters on their roofs.
By the 1860's, the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company had stores in the Northeast and was selling tea, coffee and spices.
When Gilman sold his share to Hartford, the company then promoted its his own brand of Eight O’Clock Coffee.
The A&P was the first American super market. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company – after selling bulk tea on Vesey Street — began experimenting in 1912 with a cash and carry supermarket. At first, customers gave their orders to clerks and the items were retrieved one by one. By the 1950's the A&P ruled the self- service supermarket business with over 5,500 stores.
Those days are gone and maybe we have reached an age when the computer has taken over our shopping. Not only has the supermarket business gone digital but with the closing of our East Windsor Super Fresh, we are seeing how one of America’s defining trademarks is now part of a much larger global business.
It’s one thing to read about the closing of the East Windsor store but another to see the sad faces of Super Fresh workers, mostly women, trying to earn a living to help their families remain part of the middle class. It is one thing to read about the closing and another to stare at a large yellow banner atop the entrance blasting out the message, “Store Closing—All Most Go." Does management mean all inventory must go, or all longtime devoted employees must go?
Are we in an age when managers in Germany—the majority owners of the A& P brand—are simply looking at the bottom line and if unionized workers must go, then they go regardless of whether or not this is another blow to workers and the middle class?
After speaking with a few workers on a Sunday morning at the Route 130 location, I learned that many of these ladies had devoted 25 or more years to this company. Where do they go now? One of them told me she was not sure if even the most senior people would retain a job since only four Super Fresh stores would replace the five regional stores slated to be shuttered.
How many East Windsor residents know that the German investors, The Tengelamnn Company, control 40 percent of the A&P group that includes Pathmark, Waldbaums, Food Emporium as well as Super Fresh?
Do we know that the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company has the same brand recognition as McDonald’s and Google or that in the 1930's, A&P operated over 16,000 stores?
It is sad to see another purely American icon slowly fading while our middle class seems to be fading along with it. Will the supermarket of the future have no cashiers but one clerk standing near a row of self-checkout registers? Will there be no union members? No health benefits?
Maybe competition from the big box and warehouse stores did not help, but where else could you find that coffee grinder and a bag of Eight O’Clock or Bokar coffee? I know we’re in trouble if Walmart or Home Depot closes, too.