Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tales of the Grand Union

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.


  1. Love the new Christmas scheme you have going there, Dave.

  2. Thanks, Didi-

    But since this site's about retail, I should have changed it the day after Halloween!

  3. I worked out of the MT. Kisco Grand Union Distribution center from 1968-1971. This was a great job that kept you in top physical shape as all grocery loads were thrown off by hand down rollers. Produce loads were also unloaded by hand early in the mornings before the stores were open. Meat loads were hinds and fore quarters about 150 to 190 pounds each, these were also unloaded by hand. A lot of work and a lot of overtime. I moved to California and went to work for Alpha Beta Markets, that is another story.

  4. "But since this site's about retail, I should have changed it the day after Halloween!"

    True, LOL!

  5. We have seen an old postcard showing a horsedrawn wagon with the name "Grand Union Tea Company" on the side, and an address: 117 West State Street also on the side. Does anyone know where this address is located (what city/state?) Thanks!