From modest beginnings as a tea shop in New York, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company—better known simply as A&P—became the largest retailer in the world. The brothers George and John Hartford transformed their father's small grocery chain into a vertically integrated behemoth—the first merchant to sell $1 billion in goods and the owner of nearly sixteen thousand stores and dozens of factories and warehouses from coast to coast. But its explosive growth made it a mortal threat to hundreds of thousands of mom-and-pop grocery stores.
In The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, Marc Levinson tells the story of a company that built the modern consumer economy by turning the archaic retail industry into a highly efficient system for distributing food at low cost. A&P's explosive growth represented a mortal threat to hundreds of thousands of mom-and-pop stores and the wholesalers and manufactors who supplied them. Main Street fought back tooth and nail, enlisting the state and federal governments to stop price discounting, tax chain stores, and require manufacturers to sell to mom and pop at the same prices granted to giant retailers. Franklin Roosevelt's Justice Department pressed criminal chanrges against A&P for selling food too cheaply—and won. Harry Truman, an independent merchant himself, tried to break the giant grocer into pieces.
Though A&P fell victim to the very competitive forces it helped unleash, its aggressive tactics set the stage for the dominance of big-box retailers like, Target, Costco, and Walmart.
"Mr. Levinson has written an absorbing history of one company's amazing rise—and what such success means in a nation with conflicting ideals about big business. It is more than a rich business history; it is a mirror to our own conflicting wants and visions of who and what we should be."—Nancy F. Koehn, The New York Times
"The book is a superb business study and an entertaining history, chock-a-block with hundreds of interesting facts—and some unlovely ones, such as the poisoning capabilities of 19th-century tin cans."—Roger K. Miller, The Seattle Times
"Mr. Levinson is an omnivorous researcher, and the story he brings to the table is one that more Americans should be familiar with."—Dwight Gardner, The New York Times
"The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America provides the details of this history with readable concision . . . Mr. Levinson writes engagingly, and he exhibits no overt political brief. Anyone with a common-sense grasp of business practices will find the author's points clearly and fairly presented."—Patrick Cooke, The Wall Street Journal
"Levinson, who has burrowed deep in the archives, makes this story clear and compelling—and shows why A&P was both a boon to consumers and, in the words of an FDR-era federal prosecutor, 'a gigantic blood sucker.' Shades of Walmart?"—The Atlantic
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