A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

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Andrew T.
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A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by Andrew T. » 23 Sep 2016 19:56

I came upon this page when I was browsing West Virginia newspaper archives from December 1981, and found it interesting. This was the end of A&P's presence there; at least in the southern part of the state:
ap-wv-81.jpg
I've been under the impression that A&P's 1972-75 closures were a piecemeal weeding of obsolete and underperforming stores, and it wasn't until the tail end of the decade that the chain began pulling out of entire parts of the east and midwest.

I do know off-hand that A&P exited most (all?) of Wisconsin in 1979 and Chicago in 1981.

But how many markets did A&P leave in the late 1970s and early 1980s? Was there much rhyme or reason to the divestiture? At what point did the bleeding stop, and A&P stabilize its trade area (for a few years, anyway) once more? Was there a specific catalyst for the meltdown, or was it just A&P's perpetual financial problems combined with a shaky economy?

---

For those who are curious, this is the fate of the five A&P store locations mentioned in the ad:

1732 Harper Rd., Beckley, WV: A Kroger store now stands on the site. I'm unclear whether or not it's the original building; it might be, but it looks too big and too modern for that.

623 S. Oakwood Rd., Beckley, WV: Looks to be a late 1940s or very early 1950s store (the earliest reference to it I found was from 1950); now houses an antiques shop.

U.S. 21 Pass Plaza (or ByPass Plaza), Beckley, WV: Opened August 1969 in a shopping center also originally anchored by a Hills department store; now evidently houses a Dollar Tree store. (Incidentally, U.S. 21 was decommissioned north of Virginia in 1974, making the plaza name obsolete by the time this was printed.)

3 Church St., Oak Hill, WV: Small Centennial-style store; still selling groceries today as a Grants Supermarket.

1117 Stafford Dr., Princeton, WV: Centennial-style store that opened September 23, 1969; still selling groceries today as a Save-a-Lot. Previously discussed here.
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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by BillyGr » 24 Sep 2016 13:41

At least in this area of NY (Capital District/Albany area and further north), they did pull out of most of the market somewhere in this same time frame (1981 is often mentioned).

However, they did have a couple oddities.

In the greater Albany area, there was one store in a small town called Wynantskill that remained open until April of 1997. That town apparently had a P&C at one point as well, and I don't know exactly when that closed, but for at least the last few years prior to the A&P closing they were the only store in town.
Now, there was a Price Chopper about 5 minutes away on another road, but it was Hannaford opening a store across the street that finally forced them to close down (I believe Hannaford was open less than a year before A&P closed).
There may have been other similar stores in the area, but I do not know of any and the TV coverage of this store's closing mentioned that it was the last A&P in the region.

They also had a few stores in the far northern parts of the state (Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake at least, but I think there were 4 or 5 total) that stayed open even longer, until sometime in late 2001 (as we travelled through the area that August and they were open, but were not when I returned the following MLK weekend with a Scout activity). I believe at that point these were being run via the New England division, and that is probably also when they closed down the last stores in that area.

They also at the time of the rest of the closings in the early 1980's left one small store in the village of Red Hook, which is northern Dutchess County or about a hour(ish) south of Albany. That one held on for a few years - of course that wasn't too far (in the same county) from their stores in Pleasant Valley and LaGrange areas that were still around until the final closings last year.

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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by TW-Upstate NY » 24 Sep 2016 14:07

Don't forget the store in Margaretville which actually hung on until only a few years ago. And yes I believe 1981 was really the last huge purge before things quieted down for a while because I recall the Gloversville store staying open until almost the end of that year which ended their presence locally. It was a centennial replacement store and is now subdivided between Family Dollar, Rent-A-Center and a Chinese restaurant.

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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by BillyGr » 24 Sep 2016 14:23

TW-Upstate NY wrote:Don't forget the store in Margaretville which actually hung on until only a few years ago. And yes I believe 1981 was really the last huge purge before things quieted down for a while because I recall the Gloversville store staying open until almost the end of that year which ended their presence locally. It was a centennial replacement store and is now subdivided between Family Dollar, Rent-A-Center and a Chinese restaurant.
Thanks - I should have remembered that one. That was not that close to the remaining stores, but another of those only store in the area ones (and it's now Food Town, I think?) so it makes some sense it held on as long as it did.

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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by Groceteria » 24 Sep 2016 15:14

The final Greensboro-area (NC) stores closed during this period but the few Family Mart stores in the area opened around the same time. They did not last long and were sold to Kroger. A&P remained in Charlotte and the Raleigh area until 1996-1997. But the late 1970s do seem like the time when whole markets were abandoned, usually after a long, slow decline. In Greensboro they were down to maybe one store by the end.

As for the small-town outliers, someone (maybe on the old message board) once suggested that A&P had licensed or franchised some of these one-off stores in the 1980s and 1990s, but I've never had confirmation of that. Anyone?

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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by rich » 25 Sep 2016 00:14

They did a lot of closures from about '74 onward, which was when started building super stores. They often left places with skeleton operations---despite having a DC in Toledo, which probably was too close to Detroit and Cleveland, they had few stores in Toledo by the mid 70s. When I lived in New England in the early 80s, they didn't have much left to sell. The closing of entire divisions commenced around '81 and continued for at least a couple years after that. They departed markets like Chicago, St Louis, Cleveland, and Toledo. Sometimes they sold entire markets as they did with St Louis (sold to National Tea) or mostly sold to independents as they did in Chicago and Cleveland.

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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by wnetmacman » 26 Sep 2016 04:17

As I understand it (because I was only 3-4 at the time), they exited Dallas and all Texas markets in 1975-76 or so. According to the A&P page on Wikipedia, over 1,500 stores were closed during that time. Another 1,000 stores were closed by 1981, including Chicago.
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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by Andrew T. » 26 Sep 2016 19:43

Interesting information, everyone!

It would be fascinating to plot out A&P's trade area on a map at 10-year intervals from 1965 to 2015. I imagine it being a tentacled, blob-like overlay that progressively shrinks, shifts, breaks into exclaves and appendages, then diminishes into a speck.
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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by pseudo3d » 17 Oct 2016 17:05

The Houston market I believe lost A&P in the early to mid 1970s. I don't think they became any grocery stores afterward (maybe Minimax), but I don't believe any exist today.

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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by Ephrata1966 » 17 Oct 2016 21:51

pseudo3d wrote:The Houston market I believe lost A&P in the early to mid 1970s. I don't think they became any grocery stores afterward (maybe Minimax), but I don't believe any exist today.
A&P closed their Houston stores way back in 1966. Yep, just short of 50 years before the A&P chain totally came to an end. From what I've read, several of the first Randalls stores in Houston were former A&P stores but I unfortunately can't name any particular locations.

1966 was also the year that the Henke's stores in Houston (first bought by Kroger in 1955) were renamed Kroger. Unfortunately I can't name any of their former locations either. Henke's was the big rival of Weingarten's so it's kind of fitting that while Kroger bought one of the two rivals, Safeway bought the other (but it wasn't until 1984 when Safeway bought Weingarten's). I guess the decision for Safeway to leave Houston was made pretty abruptly. It's funny because I can name at least one example of Safeway replacing one of their existing Houston stores with a former Weingarten's, even though less than five years later, Safeway would be replaced by AppleTree and we know how that was a massive failure anyway.

Ironically (because Safeway would buy Randalls) it seems Randalls had the least success with former Safeway/AppleTree stores of any chain that bought any of those stores. Kroger seems to have had really good luck with the ones they bought. The same can be said for Fiesta and Food Town. I don't think H-E-B bought any former AppleTree stores (not counting one store in far northwest Houston that was built in 1984 as possibly the last new Houston Safeway, then was AppleTree, then Randalls, then H-E-B Pantry Foods, and finally became a Stein Mart, which has outlasted each of the grocers that were once there) which is kind of surprising, but most H-E-B Pantry Foods were former Safeway stores that closed before the AppleTree spinoff. H-E-B also only bought one former Houston Albertsons in 2002 which is really surprising because Albertsons fled the region right around the same time as H-E-B first started phasing out the Pantry Foods stores.

Anyway, isn't it amazing how late A&P stayed in New Orleans (even though their next closest market for many years was the Baltimore/DC area Super Fresh stores) despite fleeing Houston so early? And A&P outlasted Albertsons in New Orleans (in fact buying a number of former Albertsons stores) despite Albertsons being a much newer chain to the area with much more modern stores. Funny how today the combined Albertsons/Safeway includes the many ex-A&P stores that Acme abruptly took over.

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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by pseudo3d » 20 Oct 2016 01:29

Ephrata1966 wrote:
pseudo3d wrote:The Houston market I believe lost A&P in the early to mid 1970s. I don't think they became any grocery stores afterward (maybe Minimax), but I don't believe any exist today.

A&P closed their Houston stores way back in 1966. Yep, just short of 50 years before the A&P chain totally came to an end. From what I've read, several of the first Randalls stores in Houston were former A&P stores but I unfortunately can't name any particular locations.
The first Randalls locations were Minimax stores, both of which were located on the fringe parts of town (Outer Loop). Randalls was always a more suburban-style grocer, and that led to a lot of its base having to be replaced as areas declined. Despite Safeway substantially weakening the chain, Randalls never had a good hold in inner-loop Houston. Most of the A&P stores were inner loop.
1966 was also the year that the Henke's stores in Houston (first bought by Kroger in 1955) were renamed Kroger. Unfortunately I can't name any of their former locations either. Henke's was the big rival of Weingarten's so it's kind of fitting that while Kroger bought one of the two rivals, Safeway bought the other (but it wasn't until 1984 when Safeway bought Weingarten's).
Safeway came into Houston pretty late, about 1969 or 1970. Their first store was at Bellfort and Telephone if my sources are correct. It is now operating as a Fiesta.
I guess the decision for Safeway to leave Houston was made pretty abruptly. It's funny because I can name at least one example of Safeway replacing one of their existing Houston stores with a former Weingarten's...
Safeway was taken private in 1986, causing them to assume debt and force the sale of numerous divisions. Most of the divisions (save for the Washington DC division, later the Eastern Division) were stores far from their core West Coast operations. The exception to this was Southern California, the last to go, but Safeway bought a share of the company that acquired it (Vons) as an insurance policy, and later made good on it by acquiring it.

I do know Safeway replaced a store on Bissonnet with an acquired Weingarten.
...even though less than five years later, Safeway would be replaced by AppleTree and we know how that was a massive failure anyway.
AppleTree wasn't a failure in the way Fresh & Easy was a failure...they had a fleet of dated stores, no money to repair it, a recession, a price war initiated by H-E-B Pantry and Food Lion, not as cheap as Kroger, not as nice as Randalls.
Ironically (because Safeway would buy Randalls) it seems Randalls had the least success with former Safeway/AppleTree stores of any chain that bought any of those stores.
Randalls only bought three, one in Pearland (later replaced under Safeway's ownership), one in Bellaire (still there, was a small Flagship store for the time but rotted under Safeway's leadership despite Lifestyle, and it is still alive, for now), and one in northwest Houston (later H-E-B Pantry...although I heard it was a trampoline place)
Kroger seems to have had really good luck with the ones they bought. The same can be said for Fiesta and Food Town.
Kroger's stores tended to be the newer ones. They got the Medical Center store at 1990 OST, a nice store off Echo Lane and Katy Freeway (notably the first and only store AppleTree ever remodeled), and one off Gessner (also big). Most of the other ones have been completely replaced or closed down.

...most H-E-B Pantry Foods were former Safeway stores that closed before the AppleTree spinoff.
There are only two former Pantry Foods stores that were ex-Safeway stores, one at Federal and I-45 (now Sellers Bros.) and one in The Woodlands (replaced). Most of the others were from older retailers (like the original Rice Food Markets) or new-builds (and they were cheap to build)
H-E-B also only bought one former Houston Albertsons in 2002 which is really surprising because Albertsons fled the region right around the same time as H-E-B first started phasing out the Pantry Foods stores.
They bought at least four stores, one in Kingwood, one off Gessner (Gessner and Kempwood), one in Clear Lake City, and one in Pasadena. The Pasadena store later became Mi Tienda a few years after opening.
Anyway, isn't it amazing how late A&P stayed in New Orleans (even though their next closest market for many years was the Baltimore/DC area Super Fresh stores) despite fleeing Houston so early? And A&P outlasted Albertsons in New Orleans (in fact buying a number of former Albertsons stores) despite Albertsons being a much newer chain to the area with much more modern stores. Funny how today the combined Albertsons/Safeway includes the many ex-A&P stores that Acme abruptly took over.
[/quote]

A&P's stay in New Orleans I'm not exactly sure how they managed to say so long there. They certainly had an interesting division, everything from a store dating back to 1930 (same store, same size, same name!) to a 100,000 square feet store (thanks Real Superstore!). My guess is it's something about the "traditional-ness" of New Orleans, where as in Houston and Dallas, things keep changing and the old is bumped out for the new (just look at the graves of the names that tried to take stands in Houston and Dallas--Albertsons, Food Lion, Safeway, Winn-Dixie). Probably the same reason why Winn-Dixie has a decent market share in New Orleans. Do you know that Winn-Dixie has nearly three times the stores in Louisiana as it does in Mississippi?

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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by wnetmacman » 20 Oct 2016 23:31

pseudo3d wrote:A&P's stay in New Orleans I'm not exactly sure how they managed to say so long there. They certainly had an interesting division, everything from a store dating back to 1930 (same store, same size, same name!) to a 100,000 square feet store (thanks Real Superstore!). My guess is it's something about the "traditional-ness" of New Orleans, where as in Houston and Dallas, things keep changing and the old is bumped out for the new (just look at the graves of the names that tried to take stands in Houston and Dallas--Albertsons, Food Lion, Safeway, Winn-Dixie). Probably the same reason why Winn-Dixie has a decent market share in New Orleans. Do you know that Winn-Dixie has nearly three times the stores in Louisiana as it does in Mississippi?
A&P's stay in New Orleans was about profits. The stores were the most profitable in the chain. You don't close the cash cow. Plus, folks in New Orleans are excessively loyal to a fault. You find a place to 'make groceries', and you stay with them. The stores Rouses bought from them have been utterly successful, including Royal Street. All of them have been remodeled since, but they have done extremely well. Winn Dixie has stayed mostly out of habit; they run a close second to Rouses and the other locals. Outside of New Orleans, they are failing miserably.

A&P at one time supplied stores in LA, MS and southern AL out of New Orleans. By the end, they were only operating inside the levees and north of the lake, and only then marginally in Slidell, Covington and Mandeville. There were stores from Shreveport south. All are now gone. Only a small handful even operate as supermarkets now, the most notable outside of NO being New Iberia and Tallulah, where small independents have kept them open.
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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by jamiel » 27 Oct 2016 22:19

A&P left St. Louis in approximately 1978, but stayed in Kansas City until the early 80s. Competition in St. Louis was far more robust than in Kansas City; with Schnucks and National being 1 and 2 in St. Louis with generally modern stores (National had some Loblaw's influences in the mid 70s with some real showplaces). Kroger was 3rd and A&P was 4th, with limited exposure outside of the first-ring suburbs. A&P was significantly stronger in Kansas City, with better positioned stores and weaker competition, with Milgram as a weak #1, A&P and Safeway tied for #2/#3, and a collection of AWG and Fleming independent banners. I'm not clear whether there was much presence for A&P outside of metro Kansas City (I think Safeway was stronger in the hinterlands and know they had stores in Columbia/Jefferson City); A&P did have a reasonable presence outside of St. Louis in Illinois (I have a vague recollection of them leaving St. Louis and the story in the newspaper mentioned that the closest open A&P was going to be in Alton or Godfrey (north of St. Louis 30 miles) because of Eight o'Clock Coffee). I remember doing an analysis of the mistakes A&P made in a college class (1981-1985) I had at Michigan State and the concentration of seniority which occurred as they closed piecemeal (rather than closing entire divisions). Would love to see a plot of all the stores they had as mentioned above.

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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by pseudo3d » 28 Oct 2016 17:08

Actually, I should mention that there are only two stores that were former Safeway stores turned HEB Pantry that I have know of, and add a third for one that was a Pantry after Randalls. (And that's not counting stores along I-35). There were no Pantry stores in A&P stores, because also the stores were suburban vs. urban.

It's possible Safeway picked up stores from A&P in Dallas during that time (Safeway was far older in Dallas than it was in Houston), but those stores would've been also been the first to get wiped out when the division was closed down.

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Re: A&P's closures and market withdrawals of the late 1970s and early 1980s

Post by wnetmacman » 01 Nov 2016 20:17

pseudo3d wrote:Actually, I should mention that there are only two stores that were former Safeway stores turned HEB Pantry that I have know of, and add a third for one that was a Pantry after Randalls. (And that's not counting stores along I-35). There were no Pantry stores in A&P stores, because also the stores were suburban vs. urban.
I can name 4 that you aren't counting: Livingston (still HEB), Center (closed), Rockdale (closed) and Carthage (still HEB, and their furthest outpost in East Texas)
pseudo3d wrote:It's possible Safeway picked up stores from A&P in Dallas during that time (Safeway was far older in Dallas than it was in Houston), but those stores would've been also been the first to get wiped out when the division was closed down.
When A&P left North Texas, they didn't hand much off to competitors. Most of the stores were smaller and run down. Safeway at that time was ramping up with larger stores (35000 or better), and wasn't purchasing. Most, if not all of them were repurposed to other retailers. I remember a store in Longview that spent most of the last 40 years as Hancock Fabrics, which moved out prior to that chain's demise.
Scott Greer

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