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The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America
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The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  329 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
One of The Wall Street Journal's Best Non fiction Books of 2011.  From modest beginnings as a tea shop in New York, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company became the largest retailer in the world. It was a juggernaut, the first retailer to sell $1 billion in goods, the owner of nearly sixteen thousand stores and dozens of factories and warehouses. But its explosive g ...more
Hardcover, 358 pages
Published August 30th 2011 by Hill and Wang (first published August 1st 2011)
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D.w.
Aug 04, 2011 D.w. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
For 43 years, A & P was the largest company in the world.

That statement alone needs much more texts about this company than there are. But we have Levinson's work now and as a student of business history I have to report that it is very good. While what happens in the last years of it's life, after the founders are gone and the generation of non-family owners takes over is not delved into greatly, the rest of the tale is very well presented so that we not only see how A&P grows but also
...more
Greg
Oct 21, 2013 Greg rated it really liked it
I thought it was a fascinating story, well-told (but not brilliantly told). I like Marc Levinson's little observations and asides throughout, like when he digresses to explain why the government's case against A&P wasn't sound.

The book had a refreshing pro-competitive, pro-business bent, while being sufficiently sympathetic to the other viewpoint. Levinson acknowledges the real human toll of "destructive competition", even while firmly endorsing it as an economic model. He's sensitive to the
...more
James
Aug 18, 2015 James rated it liked it
I liked it. In general, I'm fascinated with the operation of retail stores, the evolution of such, and the rise and fall of such. The parallels between the rise of chain stores and the internet, the exceeding similarities between the advent of talk radio in the early 1900s and where it is at in the early 2000s,... a lot of insightful things going on here. The history of grocery stores - from people behind counters and basically just tea and baking soda, to brands, meat counters, etc - very fasci ...more
Sam
Feb 28, 2013 Sam rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book, one that details the rise and fall of former retail/grocery behometh A&P. The easy reaction is that A&P was the Walmart of its day-which is true to a great extent. This book shows how the travails that A&P endured allowed WalMart to become what it is.

The book is a finely detailed account of many aspects of the grocery industry, starting with a dock front trading in the Antebellum north through the shopping center supermarkets of the 1960's. It shows how pervasive th
...more
John
Jul 21, 2012 John rated it really liked it
This engaging business history traces the rise and decline of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, which was the largest retailer in the US from 1915-1965 and the nation's largest food retailer as late as 1975. As the retail giant of its day, A&P encountered extensive political resistance for putting local stores out of business and was the target of federal regulatory actions from the 1920s through 1950s. Levinson's book shows how today's disputes over "big box" stores and online r ...more
Bill Yeadon
Oct 12, 2013 Bill Yeadon rated it really liked it
If you are one of the early Baby Boomers you certainly remember The ubiquitous A&P grocery stores. You may wonder why anyone would want to read a book about a grocery store not named Whole Foods. Actually A&P was WalMart before there was a WalMart.

The book was a very interesting read showing the determination of a pair of brothers who had inherited a tea company from their father. The story of how the government tried to repeatedly shut them down is a warning of what happens when governm
...more
Lloyd Fassett
Aug 27, 2011 Lloyd Fassett marked it as to-read
Shelves: business
I found this through his interview on Fresh Air on NPR on August 23, 2011
Shawn Ritchie
Jan 31, 2017 Shawn Ritchie rated it liked it
When I was very, very young, the A&P was our corner grocery. Since we didn't have a car, we walked down to that A&P a _lot_. It quickly converted into a Butera and now is a Supermercado of some sort, but I remember the A&P logo on it most strongly.

When I mentioned I was reading this book to a buddy about 10 years younger than me, it was made clear that he had never even _heard_ of A&P. Given that A&P was the world's largest company for 43 straight years, I find this kind of a
...more
Lis Carey
When I was a child growing up in Everett, MA, there was, on Broadway, a little supermarket called A&P. It was bigger and had more selection than the convenience stores in the neighborhood, but smaller than McKinnon's, which has since gone on to bigger and better things, but not, as it turns out, anything like the size and reach that A&P had even in its decay, in that decade of the sixties when its glory days were past. McKinnon's is a quintessential local chain in the best sense, with hi ...more
Converse
Sep 14, 2011 Converse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At its height, the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A & P) was the largest retailer in the world. This grocery chain showed some similarities to Wal-Mart in its negotiating with suppliers for lower prices, resistance (for much but not all of its existance) to unionization, and competitive success. Like Wal-Mart, it was controversial, though A & P suffered more than Wal-Mart has. The main reason it was contraversial was that it was too successful a competitor in a time when most gr ...more
Scott
Dec 28, 2012 Scott rated it really liked it
Few today, even those who have actually been in an A&P, realize that it was once the largest retailer in the world. “The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America” contains an accessible history of the rise and fall of the retailing behemoth. The tale centers on A&Ps century of growth, in which, through the data-driven operational controls of one childless brother and the visionary drive of the other, it transformed itself multiple times over to ride waves of technolog ...more
Gwen
Dec 31, 2016 Gwen rated it liked it
Everything old is new again. In chronicling the rise and fall of the once might Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Levinson reminds us that the threat of a big corporate behemoth as a challenge to small businesses has been with us for, oh, at least a century if not more. When it was good, it was very very good and when it was bad, well, things got pretty dire.
The Hartford family created a mighty empire, with great vision about consolidation, in-house warehousing, cutting out the middleman, get
...more
Michelle
Sep 26, 2011 Michelle rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, money
An intelligent, balanced history of a fascinating industry as seen through the company that had more influence on food than any other. One of the most-interesting comments is at the beginning of the book: historically the U.S. government has used trust-busting to protect the consumer, while European governments have employed it to protect small businesses. When I read this, I felt instinctively that Europe was way off: protecting businesses that aren't competitive enough to survive on their own ...more
Daniel
Nov 16, 2011 Daniel added it
This book tells a story that explains part of how the world got to be the way it is.

I got this book because it's the next one from the guy who wrote "The Box" (history of containerized shipping). It touches on some similar themes. The share of income that people spent on food went from 33% to 21% over some period, and a big part of that was moving from less-efficient business organization to more-efficient organization. It also meant that thousands of people who had worked as produce wholesalers
...more
Doug
Oct 26, 2011 Doug rated it liked it
Shelves: business, history
For a time, A&P was the most dominant retailer in the world. It was Walmart before Walmart was Walmart. Interesting case study of how the Hartford Brother steered - and pioneered - the company through seismic changes in the retail landscape:

The supermarket was the fourth retailing revolution through which George and John Hartford had guided the Great Atlantic and Pacific. With their father, they had turned George Gilman’s tea company into the first grocery-store chain in the 1890s. Starting
...more
Margaret Sankey
Oct 10, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
A business history, following A&P from its days as the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company to the invention of the "combination" store and the further innovation of supermarkets, loss leaders, deals with local growers' associations, Green stamps, private branding (Quaker Maid), cellophane packaging and baked goods displayed in sheet trays. Along the way, however, small independent stores with political allies from Huey Long to Wright Patman pressed for chain store taxes, anti-trust suits (leadi ...more
Danielle
Oct 02, 2011 Danielle rated it really liked it
This book examines the rise of The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company and all it's future iterations as the long time largest chain store in America. It also looks at all the ways that some people and the government attempted to fight against chain stores in favor of small businesses. I found this really interesting as this is something that seems to have been a constant battle in Baltimore in recent years. It always seemed like somewhat of a recent issue, but in fact it's a fight that has l ...more
Michael
Jan 13, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
WalMart is frequently held up as a destroyer of small businesses and as an example of how big box retail is destroying America. But as it turns out, much of the practices of WalMart aren't novel or even pioneered by WalMart. Long before WalMart or even "discount" retailing there was The Great A&P.

Not once, or even twice, but four times in The Great A&P's history the company re-invented itself, transitioning from a small mail order coffee and tea company, to a grocer, to a discount grocer
...more
Patricia
Jan 08, 2012 Patricia rated it liked it
There was much in this book that I liked, but some that made it difficult for me to read. The author did a bit too much with economics, which has never been my strong suit, and the history of the government's fight against the chain stores and trusts was too involved for my taste. On the other hand, learning about FDR's ambivalence towards chain stores was very interesting and is still a very real issue today: attack the chains for the control they have over the market, or allow them to exist be ...more
Dan Sussman
Nov 09, 2011 Dan Sussman rated it really liked it
“The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America,” is an interesting, if somewhat uneven history of the rise and fall of retailing’s giant during the first half of the 20th Century. Marc Levinson is generally sympathetic and admiring of the company, which dominated the retailing landscape during its heyday, but which also drew the enmity of critics and legislators fearful that it was destroying competition in the grocery business. The A&P, led by the innovative Hartford brot ...more
Sean Hirschten
Dec 13, 2012 Sean Hirschten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Persuasive take on how capitalism can make life better for the many, and worse for a few, and how those few try to stop it. You can tell Levenson is trying to draw parallels to Wal-Mart, though he doesn't get explicit til the end. Still, there seems to be a difference between opposition to Wal-Mart and opposition to A&P. Opposition to Wal-Mart is broader, while he portrays opposition to A&P as mostly embraced by their competitors (who were legion). But lots of people who don't sell cheap ...more
Gabriel
Dec 16, 2015 Gabriel rated it really liked it
This is a lively and interesting history of the original great behemoth of national grocery retailing. I spend some fair bit of time in my life eating and shopping for food, and have spent little of that wondering where the grocery superstore "came from," or how and why food distribution works the way it does. This book is not a complete discussion of those questions - A&P began to "fall" well before my birth and many of the changes in retail, and especially food retailing, are more recent t ...more
Joyce
Jan 30, 2012 Joyce rated it really liked it
A fascinating book about the rise and fall of The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. I had no idea that the controversy pertaining to large stores vs. mom-and-pop stores started with A&P more than 100 years ago. I found it interesting that despite the government's efforts to shut down A&P, what really ended up doing them in is their own mismanagement after the Hartford brothers (specifically John A.) died. What I took away from this book was a bit of nostalgia (I spent half my life ...more
Parker F
Oct 09, 2011 Parker F rated it liked it
The rise of A&P from a tea shop to the largest retailer in the world and its rapid decline is a fascinating case study of creative destruction. A large portion of this book deals with the efforts of the federal and local governments to tax and bar the growth of A&P as it was perceived as a threat to local "Mom and Pop" grocers. The economic logic of the opponents of A&P is disturbing: the company was being demonized for being too efficient and for having too low prices. Oddly, while ...more
Steven
Dec 20, 2012 Steven rated it really liked it
A solid business book with perfect flow. However, buyer beware: the writer, Marc Levinson, is a big business sympathizer. If you want a book screaming store chains like Wal-Mart are great for America and why, "The Great A&P: and the battle for small business in America" is your read. Levinson is intelligent and the book should be read, but he brushes through the destruction of small businesses in America with positive spin on every single page, as if the store was great for business in Ameri ...more
Paul
Apr 07, 2012 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-book
I remember going to A&P with my grandparents, so I had a vague memory of my experience in the store, even though by that point it was in its decline. Levinson's placement of A&P at the center of his story also reveals much that was happening alongside the evolution of this enterprise, pulling together the leadership styles that propelled and spelled the downfall of the store, and historical, political and economic events and trends going on. I listened to the book on CD and found the flu ...more
Robin
Apr 13, 2012 Robin rated it liked it
Fascinating read about the rise and fall of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. The two bachelor brothers who ran the company were innovators in merchandising in the grocery business. Legislators attempted to stifle the growth of the chain stores (specifically the A&P) in order to save the Mom & Pop stores. I remember going to the A&P with my mother in Peoria, IL. My body was nourished with Ann Page products and my parents drank 8 O'Clock coffee. I stocked my hope chest with ...more
Toni
Dec 05, 2011 Toni rated it it was ok
Snore. The introduction, intriguing as it is, is really about all you need to read to get this point of this book. There's a deeply interesting story here, about the conversion of America's food supply from the Mom & Pop to the mega-corporate chain. But it's buried under two huge flaws: (1) Levinson is no great stylist, and (2) he spends waaayyyy too much time telling the story of the family behind this corporate phenom, which was populated by a bunch of people history has done well to forge ...more
Karin
Dec 10, 2011 Karin rated it liked it
So what I really want to do now is go do my grocery shopping in different decades. I found his descriptions of the different incarnations of the A&P fascinating.

I felt bad about how the government interfered so much in their business. Obviously the book was written with a sympathetic slant to the A&P, but since in general I do most of my shopping at chain stores, it's hard for me to side with the government.

I was a little bored by some of the in depth political/financial sections, but t
...more
Steve
Sep 19, 2011 Steve rated it really liked it
A reasonably interesting tale of the rise and fall of an iconic American business. Despite the efforts of government at all levels to quash the chain store (and A&P, the largest), it thrived until management failures and lack of vision caused the business to implode, almost overnight. Yet many did: Woolworth, A&P, W.T. Grant, Montgomery Ward. Others adapted and thrived: Kroger, Safeway .. and of course the birth and explosive growth of Walmart.

The anti-chain store arguments seem unbeliev
...more
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