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.