A familiar face to grocery shoppers throughout the Northeast states (and even more so to those Northeasterners who vacationed in Florida), the late, great Grand Union Company also held the distinction of being one of America’s oldest grocery chains, second only to The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company.
The company was founded in Scranton, PA in 1872 (thirteen years after A&P) by Cyrus D. Jones, who would soon be joined by his two brothers to form the Jones Brothers Tea Company, the predecessor to Grand Union. To augment the sales of their lone store, Jones initiated home delivery service to customers in the area, planting the seeds of what would become Grand Union’s “Route Division”, an operation that would continue into the 1950’s. The “Grand Union” name was adopted in the last years of the 19th century for a subsidiary of Jones called the Grand Union Tea Company.
The chain had grown to 200 stores and 500 horse-and-buggy equipped route salesmen by its 40th anniversary in 1912. The corporate offices were set up in New York. By the early 20’s, however, things began to falter, with falling profits on an unwieldy assortment of stores, routes and unnecessary manufacturing operations.
Help was on the way in the form of two former A&P managers recruited in 1924 – J. Spencer Weed as President and 28-year old whiz kid Lansing P. Shield as Controller. Within four years, the team had streamlined the company, sold off the non-core (as we refer to it in current business-speak) manufacturing plants, and led the company back to profitability. In 1928, the Jones family sold out their ownership stake and the entire company was officially rechartered as the Grand Union Tea Company.
The photos above (featuring the fabulous "Food-O-Mat", an L.P. Shield invention) are from 1946.