Monday, December 21, 2009

Being a Primer on A&P Centennials.

Anniversaries were always very important to the A&P. Every year for much of the 20th century, the company’s stores held a special anniversary sale, proclaimed with banners in the stores and trumpeted in newspaper ads. “Come celebrate A&P’s 87th Anniversary” – that sort of thing. Five year anniversaries were an even bigger deal. Ten year anniversaries – huge. Twenty-five or Fifty years, forget about it. Gigantic. But when A&P’s 100th anniversary rolled around in 1959, they really blew it out of the box.

Not content to just hang banners and place six-page newspaper spreads for this momentous event, A&P opted instead to construct a series of monuments to celebrate the company’s centennial. These “monuments”, of course, were stores, and the “series” went on for more than a decade, tallying hundreds of stores. And interestingly, a great number of these still stand, as home to all manner of retail establishments, community centers, churches, and just about anything else imaginable. A handful even continue to house A&P stores.

The celebration was kicked off in January 1959, but a few Centennial stores had already been opened by then. The Centennial store made its "official" debut in mid-March at New York’s International Flower Show, where a special A&P 100th Anniversary exhibit was...uh, exhibited. An 18-foot tall, four-tiered cake was the centerpiece of the exhibit, surrounded by a Victorian garden. A mock-up of the original A&P store on New York’s Vesey Street was on display, along with dioramas depicting A&P’s Jane Parker bakery and Eight O’Clock coffee operations. The last display featured the Centennial prototype, a colonial architectural design that A&P would soon begin rolling out all over, and of which they were justifiably proud.

The design, which A&P generally referred to as “Early American” in its promotion, was based on the architecture of 18th century Virginia. This style was most prominently exemplified in modern times by Colonial Williamsburg, the historic section of the one-time capital of colonial Virginia, which was restored to its original appearance in the 1930’s. One of America’s most popular tourist destinations, Williamsburg has done much to foster a love for colonial architecture among many Americans in the decades since the restoration.

By the late 1950’s, A&P had settled into a fairly plain style of architecture for the majority of its stores, with nothing that really stood apart from those of other grocery or variety chains. They had the typical rectangular, boxy appearance of the day, with brick or tile veneer and a row of large picture windows across the facade. There were the occasional pylons, but for the most part the only distinguishing features were the famous round “A&P” signs, which usually were either internally lit Plexiglas or neon, with beveled “rays” jutting out to the right and left of the round sign. It was obvious to anyone that the Centennial design represented a substantial increase in prestige over what had gone before.

And A&P knew this full well. In reading a number of late 50’s/early 60’s newspaper articles on various Centennial store openings, the same phrase continues to pop up, nearly verbatim, from the pen of the local A&P vice president – “We are certainly proud to dedicate to the _______ community a modern Super Market to serve the people of this area; and we are doubly happy that the new store could be the company’s latest approved design, this handsome ‘Early American’ style”. The key is in the last part of that sentence – A&P wisely promoted the prestige and “scarcity” factors as a way of making sure that customers were aware of their good fortune. They ate it up, as evidenced by the hundreds of Centennials that would be built over the ensuing decade, although A&P did continue to build the standard non-Centennial style in selected markets (along with some unique designs for their Southern California stores, but that’s a story for another time) for various reasons.

In the first years of the Centennials, an effort was made to carry on the Early American theme inside the stores as well, with pediment-style departmental signs and colonial murals on the walls. This was discontinued a few years later, as competition heated up and a more modern interior look, with bolder colors, was virtually forced upon them.

Also in earlier years, not surprisingly, the “colonial” theme lent itself to all kinds of patriotic-themed promotions, from grand opening ads proclaiming “Here ye, Here ye”, to giveaway copies of the Declaration of Independence on “genuine aged parchment”. (I had one, not from A&P, that I thought was extremely cool.)

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the Centennial program was the way A&P adapted the design for an incredibly wide range of store types, both for new stores and for retrofits of existing stores. The popularity of the Centennial design and resulting public demand prompted A&P to remodel scores of existing stores with the colonial theme, with results ranging from the attractive, to the slightly odd, to the funny but endearing.

The only Centennial store that I recall shopping at personally was in Glenview, Illinois, a near north suburb of Chicago, where we moved in 1970 when I was in second grade, and I have to admit that the store’s design made a striking impression on me even then. I don’t remember much about the inside of the store, save for all the slush that had been tracked in by shoppers during those snowy Chicago winter days. And the Jane Parker fake Oreos, which my little brother and I used to crush up in our ice cream, creating what I believe was the first Cookies and Cream ever invented. To my knowledge, that is…

From the top, the photos depict: (1) An unknown location from 1962, with a lovely red logo, (2) Edmonds (Seattle Area) Washington, from 1968, (3) Columbus, Indiana, also 1968, where the colonial design fit the larger store extremely well in my opinion, (4,5,6) Three views from the West Hempstead, Long Island, NY store, 1968, (7) Somewhere in Queens, NY, 1966, (8) Jackson Heights, Queens, NY, 1966 (Ok, now the “Car 54, Where Are You?” theme is running though my head. No, I wasn’t born yet when that show first ran.), (9) An unknown location from 1970 – someone who remembers “Hoeffer Drug”, please help us out!, Note: Thanks to Bill, who informs us: "The A&P by Hoeffer Drug was at West Boulevard and Lorain Avenue in Cleveland, OH. The building was torn down and replaced with a CVS drugstore a few years ago." (10) Southampton, Long Island, NY, 1972, with a really sharp-looking treatment of the side of the store. Below, a mother and daughter show their affinity for A&P brands in a circa 1960 scene, where the colonial pediment signs are visible on the wall above. All are A&P publicity photos with the exception of the "Hoeffer Drug" photo, which is from Progressive Grocer's A&P Study, and the Queens, NY night shot, which is from a Crouse-Hinds Lighting ad.
Lastly, some newspaper ads from the early years of the Centennial era - 1959 ads from Annapolis, Maryland and Logansport, Indiana. Next is an article with an artist’s rendering of a forthcoming A&P store that appeared in the Sandusky (Ohio) Register in 1959, followed by a grand opening ad for the store from the following year. Following that are 1959 and 1962 Grand Opening ads from New Castle, Pennsylvania and Valparaiso, Indiana, respectively. Last is a 1964 article from the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, showing off their newly Centennialized (remodeled) A&P store.

Wow, getting real close to December 25, and I haven’t started my Christmas blogging! We’ll shift gears for the next few posts. Hope your week isn’t too hectic!

27 comments:

  1. The A&P mentioned as being built in the Logansport ad above still stands, but is a video rental store today. There's no mistaking the building's shape, though. To see, go to Google Maps satellite view and look for the address "1200 E Market St., Logansport, IN."

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  2. A&P's centennial design is probably my favorite vintage supermarket exterior, though as you have noted, the interiors lacking when compared to the exterior. The pediment signage for the road side sign is my favorite, preferred over the A&P circle, which looked good on A&P labels and uniforms, but didn't fit the colonial theme. The pill shaped oval adopted in the mid-70's while modern, lacks the heritage and prestige of the old circle logo it replaced.

    Safeway's marinas and gables may have been grander, but the exterior of a centennial did come to be a monument to the tea company itself. And maybe that was one of the problems, they had built monuments that were frozen in time while the competition had begun to up the ante with ever larger and ever more modern stores with more bells and whistles that the smallish centennials couldn't provide without appearance altering expansions and updates. The centennial ended up representing A&P at is post-war modern zenith and all that has come since was trailing the competition in a game of catch up.

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  3. Lovely set of color photos, Dave. these are truly fanastic.

    Any idea whether that one in Glenview that you remember is still standing? I am not sure how many centennials were built in the Chicago area butI do know of one still standing in Harwood Heights, now a paint store I believe.

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  4. Forgot to mention that the couple placing their shopping bags in the trunk look just darling and I just ADORE that red headed woman's agreat vintagey coat.

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  5. I grew-up with one of the first Centennials, which was on Euclid Avenue in Wickliffe, Ohio (it now houses an electrical parts firm, I believe). We used it as an occasional, "fill-in" store as it was not in a shopping cnter (unlike the other chains in the area) and after A&P took over a location in the shpooing center near our home, we rarely went there at all. The insides were spartan, but wore well. The watered down colonial elements seemed wear better than the more stereotypical 50s/early 60s looks of the period.

    A&P often made an effort to add centennial elements to stores in shopping centers as new or remodeled construction. The Congessional Plaza store in Rockville, MD (c. 1960) was an example--instead of the plain brick front, like the rest of the center, there was a somewhat cheap attempt at colonial design with shingling (this was typical, usually rendered in blue with white lettering or with white shingles and red or black lettering). The Chagrin Falls Shopping Center outsided of Cleveland was an example of where colonial elements were added to an existing store.

    The centennial was adapated to many different sizes. They built 13K sf stores in small towns and inner city neighborhoods, although these often looked a little chopped down given the strong horizontal of the design. They also had a few stores in excess of 20K sf. If anything, A&P seemed to build more of these in the pre-centennial era than afterward. Their competition gradually began building larger stores over time and many had started doing this in the 50s. By the 1970s and the end of the centennial era, the typical new A&P was still 18-19K sf, while competitors were building stores of over 30K sf.

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  6. The A&P by Hoeffer Drug was at
    West Boulevard and Lorain Avenue in Cleveland, OH. The building was torn down and replaced with a CVS drugstore a few years ago.

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  7. What, no interior shots? I miss the alternating salmon and light blue stripes.

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  8. <>

    I didn't mind the oval, but today it looks dated. That said, I agree there is something special about the circular A&P logo with the 1800's-style font. Finally, if you notice the font used for the colonial A&P's ... we had two stores here (both mall stores) with a circular backlit sign, but using the same script found on the Colonial Stores. If I remember correctly, the round sign was followed by unlit individual letters spelling out "D I S C O U N T F O O D S".

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  9. I know the oval my be dated to some but now they seem to be leaving of the orange and yellow sillouettes. I like the 1800's script the best. While I'd like them to up date the A&P oval I think I would rather them keep well enough alone considering what they came up with for the new Super Fresh logo, an "S". I prefer the half script, half block letter Super Fresh than what they have now!!!

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  10. The one I recall going to the most as kid was in the Chartley Shopping Center,at 128 Chartley Drive,just off Reisterstown Road. You can see a picture here of how they ruined it after the A&P moved out

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/photos_from_alex/2330376142/

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  11. Jim – Thanks for the tip on the Logansport store. It definitely was an unmistakable design!

    Ken – The Centennial-styled interiors were fairly low-key, especially compared to the grandeur of those exteriors. From my standpoint, it’s just as well, in light of that, that they tried other design schemes inside. And those pediment signs were fantastic, I agree. I absolutely couldn’t stand the “pill-shaped” oval logo when I was young, and almost considered it a sacrilege when they switched to it and dumped their traditional logo(s). Time has given me more of an appreciation of the 1976 logo – both for its appearance and that fact that A&P made a fairly bold move by changing to it.

    It does seem that they were depending a bit heavily on the Centennial design to hold their fortunes up, when competitive forces were crushing in from so many sides.

    Didi – It was at the corner of Glenview Road and Harlem Ave, near the railroad tracks. I looked at aerial views on Bing Maps and Historic Aerials, and it looks like it’s gone. They’ve torn my childhood down!

    Check out the thrift stores for that coat! ;)

    Anonymous – Thanks for that info on the Wickliffe, Chagrin Falls, and Rockville, MD stores. I’ve seen photos of several different “Centennial retrofits”, and some definitely look better than others, although I must say that most were an improvement over most of the plain storefronts A&P originally built in the 1950’s.

    And I agree that the small average square footage definitely hurt A&P as time went on.

    Bill – Thanks so much for filling us in on that! I’ve added the info to the post.

    Dan – I do have some wild-colored mid-60’s interiors that I plan to post soon, along with some “A&P Discount Foods” photos. Your memories of their signage are accurate.

    Paul – As mentioned, the oval logo has grown on me. I find myself agreeing with you on the “leave well enough alone” where most retail logos are concerned these days. So many of the newer logos have a “generic” appearance to them.

    Roger – Believe me, many Centennials have met much worse fates than that! Thanks for commenting.

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  12. Dan – I do have some wild-colored mid-60’s interiors that I plan to post soon, along with some “A&P Discount Foods” photos. Your memories of their signage are accurate.

    I doubt you have a picture of this, but the two mall stores I referenced were closed for awhile for remodeling somewhere between the mid-70's to late 70's. The stores opened and had the light blue/salmon interior, but remodeled to include a fairly modern design which included bauhaus font lettering. It was their best prototype, in my opinion. They exited this market not too long after those stores were remodeled.

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  13. The A&P centennial stores are perhaps second only to the Safeway marinas of the same period as the most iconic supermarket buildings of all time, and the motif has aged well. Given A&P's myriad market retrenchments and rebrandings over the last few decades, I can only imagine how small a proportion of these are still housing proper, operational A&P supermarkets today...

    Oddly enough, the centennial stores seemed to more or less pass northeast Wisconsin by. Their presence here in the 1960s and 1970s appeared to consist chiefly of pre-centennials (including straggling downtown storefronts) and a haphazard mix of newer locations; such as a mall store and a former Krambo/Kroger store. A&P left the area in March 1979.

    For the record, I pinpointed the first appearance of the "modern" A&P logo to between February 4 and February 11, 1976. I believe they also used it on their 1975 annual report; although it's anyone's guess when that came out...

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  14. Thank you so much for writing your excellent article.

    Sadly, the A&P Corporation currently operates very few "pure" centennials under one of their trade names. (By "pure," I mean that the location still has a shingled roof and red bricks, and has not been altered in any material way.) Below are the only ones of which I am aware:

    *A&P, 110 Washington Street, Morristown, NJ
    *A&P, Washington Valley Road (exact numerical adress not provided on A&P's website), Pluckemin, NJ
    *A&P, 100 Route 22, Goldens Bridge, NY
    *A&P, 132 Bedford Road, Katonah, NY

    and possibly

    *A&P Fresh Market, 1366 East Main Street, Shrub Oak, NY

    Also, there are a couple of other stores that come close to being "pure" centennials (i.e., there has been a minor change to the building):

    *A&P, 507 Prospect Avenue, Little Silver, NJ (brick color is brown)
    *Superfresh, 401 New London Road, Newark, DE (big strip--with store name--blocks much of the front of the building)
    *Superfresh, 832 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson, MD (red bricks were painted white)
    *Waldbaums, 375 Tompkins Avenue, Staten Island, NY (red bricks were painted white)

    And, as you may have suspected, there are still other centennials that A&P still operates but that have been altered quite a bit (as the result of revovations and/or expansions). Three such locations include:

    *A&P, 580 Central Avenue, New Providence, NJ
    *Superfresh, 4330 48th Street NW, Washington, DC
    *Superfresh, 3070 Welsh Road, Willow Grove, PA

    Interestingly, the only way one could ever know that (part of) the New Providence and Willow Grove stores are Centennials would be to look at an aerial view, as the renovations destroyed the unique centennial architecture.

    Before I conclude, I just wanted to add that I live near the Morristown location and consider myself blessed that I am so close to one of the few remaining "pure" centennials.

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  15. We had a A&P store with the "modern' design in my home town of Shelton Ct. It was on River Road (Ct RT 110) i recall going there in the mid 60's with my folks. Mom did not really care for it but it was close - she prefered "Grand Union' in nearby Stratford CT. i think there was a close by Stop and Shop way back then, There was a goofy joke at thee time_ "i hear that Stop and shop and A&P are going to merge they are going to call the store stop and pee! Wasnot my joke! A&P had an advertising slogan wEEEE OOOOOO Remember that?

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  16. the Shelton ct A&P has been closed for many years however the building is still there (CUPOLA AND ALL) And is now a self storage facility

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  17. Dan – I don’t think I do have a photo that fits that description. Very interesting that they used Bauhaus lettering, which always brings the Kroger “greenhouse” stores to mind.

    Andrew – It’s definitely aged well – too bad so few are now used for A&P’s! Great job on pinning down the date they transitioned to the tri-color logo. (The 1975 annual report was published in May of the following year, which is typical.) A&P opened a brand new store in ’76 just a couple of blocks from where we lived at the time (NW Chicago suburbs), and I recall marveling at the image change. Still like the Centennials better, though!

    Max – Thanks so much for that rundown on the existing “pure” centennials – fantastic info! You are indeed fortunate to be close to one. The one store on your list that I’ve been to personally is the Dulaney Valley SuperFresh location – I had seen some early photos of it on the Baltimore County Public Library website,

    http://external.bcpl.lib.md.us/hcdo/cfdocs/photopage.cfm?id=7846

    and one day in 2008 I was on a business trip there, driving back to BWI to catch a flight. I saw the Dulaney Valley Road exit, and since I had some time to kill, I decided to see if I could find the store, which turned out to be just off of the exit. Despite (no doubt multiple) re-decoratings, the coffee grinders and many of the refrigerator case appeared to be original. Well worthwhile!

    Thanks again!

    Anonymous – Thanks for sharing that memory of the Shelton store. And I like the “merger slogan”! Mind if I use that! :)

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  18. By all means - i was told that there was a A&P store in derby ct but that pre dates the Shelton ct store by quite a few years. my memory was of the smell of the coffee in the store - i think that the grinder/baggers for the coffee were located right next to the cash registers in the front of the store.

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  19. There's still an open Colonial store in Westchester County, in Goldens Bridge, if anyone's curious. Visiting there really takes me back in time...

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  20. Thanks Dave for this great post of Great A&P's famous centennial stores. It is definitely a beautiful trip down memory lane.
    And yes, the Anniversaries were indeed special. After Tengelmann took over the company in early 1979, anniversaries were not celebrated much. The 125th was observed, as well as the 140th. Usually the later anniversaries starting with the 140th, the 145th and the 150th,were celebrated in an exhibit supported by the A&P Historical Society at the Patterson NJ museum.
    I have lived through all the anniversaries since the 100th, being a little kid in 1959, but always remembering the important year, 1859. Thankgoodness the 150th anniversary was observed through September of last year. Glad I purchased all of the special tin products sold at all the banners, as well as winning a child size replica of a red and gold A&P delivery truck from the 1920's.

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  21. One further comment on the Logansport store. By the time I was old enough to remember, the A&P had become a local store called "Ranch" and then "Corral," morphing the early american theme into "western." As I recall, the aisle signs were wooden looking, and the freezer cases etc. had antiques on top. The replacement A&P, currently Aarons rent-to-own, still had the vaguely colonial shape.

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  22. That Southampton A&P still exists as one of A&P's Waldbaums stores.

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  23. While not a Centennial Colonial, I am deeply saddened to report that the oldest in continuous operation A&P supermaket location in Maplewood NJ is closing in Mid October 2010.
    This is really a cool store, in operation for more than 68 years. It will be missed by those of us who love exploring classic, original Great A&P supermarket locations.

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  24. I'm happy to report that the circa 1957 Centennial in downtown Bridgton, Maine is still intact. Last week the news didn't look good - the discount store housed there for the last few years was closing and the symbol of mid-century Americana seemed to have fallen into disfavor with the powers that be:

    http://www.bridgton.com/bridgdt.php

    But you can't keep a good building down. Another branch of the same family will turn it into its own variation on the discount store theme in short order. As an interesting aside, the owner of the building also owns one of the few remaining independent grocery chains in Maine. For all I know, they may even have bought it from A&P when they left town.

    http://www.bridgton.com/dinansdisc.php

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  25. I saw the photo of the A&P in Cleveland on W.Blvd.and Lorain Ave. Also in the photo is Hoeffer drug. Does anyone have more information on the history of the Hoeffer family and business.

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  26. Alas, it looks like the 1957 vintage Centennial in Bridgton, Maine faces the wrecking ball:

    http://www.bridgton.com/avesta-unveils-plans-for-housing-complex/

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  27. I started a Flicker group for vintage A&P's
    http://www.flickr.com/groups/apmarkets/
    And this is just my own pictures
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/31660989@N05/sets/72157623807902982/

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