Thursday, September 17, 2009

Response to Reader Question about "First Supermarket in Ypsi" Story: "When Was Its Heyday, and When Did It Close?"

A kind reader who perused my "First Supermarket in Ypsilanti" story over on left an interesting question in "comments":

I enjoyed the story and the history behind this store too, but am also interested in a follow up. When did this particular store enjoy its heyday and when did it finally close? --bellhelmet

Heyday: The store enjoyed its best days in the 1950s, according to Wikipedia. "In the 1950s, the pressure it put on its suppliers led to the passing of several anti-predatory pricing laws by Congress. The threat of having to break up the A&P company because of these laws led John Augustine Hartford and George Ludlum Hartford to give an interview to Time, which put them on their November 13, 1950 cover. Time wrote that, next to General Motors, A&P sold more goods than any other company in the world...

The article continues, "In the mid-1950s, A&P was the dominant food retailer. In a few markets, A&P had up to 75% of the market share, with stores in 39 states. Downtown stores were being replaced with 15,000 to 20,000-square-foot supermarkets, which was large for that time period. In many situations a 20,000-square-foot store in a town would replace several 5,000-square-foot obsolete stores..."

Heyday: 1950s. Dusty D sped off to the Archives today to find the answer to the second question. And...I sort of did. (click article for larger image).
In January of 1982, the six A&Ps in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area closed. Poof. Just like that.

After its dominance in the 50s, A&P was lagging. "[S]ome disturbing trends were starting to emerge," notes Groceteria's page on A&P. "The company’s conservative policies were not in tune with the retail boom of the 1950s, and A&P’s largely urban (and aging) store base was concentrated in urban areas rather than the growing suburbs. This would be a major issue for the company in the ensuing years...By the 1960s, stores were stale, sales were flat, and the midwestern and west coast divisions were struggling. A well-publicized corporate reorganization in 1968 and 1969 did little to stem the decline, and the next two decades were defined by declining sales, closing stores, and failed format changes."

The poor economy in 1982 dealt the chain a blow, inciting the local closings. Senior union members from the six stores were moved, when possible, to other stores, and others were given three to six weeks' severance pay.

The Ann Arbor stores stores mentioned in the article were on Maple, South Industrial, and Plymouth. The Ypsi stores mentioned were on Holmes Road and at the Gault Village and Roundtree shopping centers. The Michigan Avenue A&P, Ypsilanti's first supermarket, is not mentioned in the article--it must have closed before 1982.

I didn't notice this when I read the article's headline and confidently photocopied the story at the Archives, thinking, "ah, there's the answer." I was copying a bunch of other things and didn't actually read the article.

So the way to find out the closing date for the Michigan Ave. store would be to go through the city directories for the years following its opening in 1942, which I will be delighted to do the next time I'm in the Archives. I'll say I can find the answer within a week, given my schedule. It would be neat to find out, and I appreciate the good question and the patience from bellhelmet. Update to come!

I'm guessing the Michigan ave. store was sort of a medium-sized 1940s supermarket, between the small "economy" stores of the 1930s and the gigantic A&Ps of the 60s and 70s.

In the meantime, thanks to bellhelmet for the chance to find out more about the rise and fall of A&P!


Dusty D said...

It's funny where reader questions, which I love, will lead you. I didn't expect to become so intimately conversant with the successes and struggles of one supermarket chain, but I'm delighted that I learned all those things. 'Twas fun! Thanks to bellhelmet.

Anonymous said...

I am having a debate with a co-worker regarding the anchor store in Gault Village. I say it was Grants, he says it was K-Mart. Do you know the answer? Thanks.

Dusty D said...

Anon: I do not offhand, but I can surely find out! I've put this on my Archives research list. Thank you for your patience while I try to ferret out the answer. I'll be there tomorrow.

Paul A. said...

That store (at the south end of Gault Village) was Arnet's first I think, then Grant's, and ultimately K-Mart before it eventually was closed. The A&P was at the opposite end of the center along the Service Drive.

Paul A. said...

Sorry, I think I meant Arlan's, not Arnet's

Paul A. said...

For more information about chain retail stores than you probably want to know:
The most recent post (11-13) was on the history of A&P, coincidentally.