Book Nook: The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, by Marc Levinson

Dec 6, 2012

Long before there was a WalMart and many of the other discount store chains that we know today there was the A&P chain of grocery stores. Marc Levinson initially approached this writing project with the intention of writing a biography about the two brothers, George and John Hartford, who guided the A&P through many decades and changes. When Levinson began his research he quickly changed course after he realized that George, the older brother, had led such a secretive life that he wasn't a substantial enough subject for a biography.

The author shifted his focus to the astonishing history of the A&P store chain. 100 years ago in 1912 the Hartfords implemented what became a seismic shift in retailing. They began opening what they called Economy stores. By 1929 the A&P's expansive presence and aggressive discounting had made them such a dominant force that they became the first company to ever rack up a billion dollars in annual sales.

By then chain stores like the A&P had become political targets. By the 1940's the Hartford brothers were found to be guilty of criminal anti-trust activity. Their crime? Low prices. Too low. This government action ultimately led to the decline and eventual demise of that entire store chain.

Levinson tells a fascinating tale here. And on a side note; in this interview the author recalls his time at Antioch College back in the 1970's when he used to read the news on an eclectic little radio station known as WYSO.