Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A&P in The Big Easy!

If any grocery store could lay claim to the term “landmark”, the one pictured above would certainly qualify. It’s the legendary A&P at the corner of Royal and St. Peter streets in the “Vieux CarrĂ©” (known to most of us as the French Quarter) section of New Orleans. Untold numbers of shoppers – locals and tourists alike – have filed past that red marble corner column through the decades.

The store opened on December 20, 1930, and remained open as an A&P for a remarkable 77 years thereafter, until the company sold off its 21-store New Orleans operation in September 2007. Happily, it continues on as a grocery store, part of the locally-owned Rouse’s chain.

It’s almost beside the point to discuss the store’s architecture. From the start, it has blended in seamlessly with the other French Creole-styled buildings (and their intricate balcony ironwork) that predominate the French Quarter. This photograph was taken around 1970, near the midpoint of the store’s existence as an A&P, and shows a much lighter color scheme than many would remember. More familiar are the darker walls and black-painted ironwork the store has sported in recent years. Its undeniably charming appearance has made the store a very popular artist’s motif.

Recently, a commenter on this site likened the Royal St. A&P to a convenience store, and I agree with that description. Because of the store’s urban location and small size, it filled a different role than the typical late-20th century A&P supermarket. Indeed, whenever A&P ran a larger promotion or giveaway in the New Orleans market, they frequently included the disclaimer “all stores except 701 Royal St.”, presumably due to a combination of the lack of space and the higher selling prices attainable in that vibrant tourist district.

Below is a full page Times-Picayune ad from the Royal St. store’s opening day, which merited a fairly cursory mention in the lower left corner of the page. Also of note is A&P’s defense of its area bread pricing, an early skirmish in A&P’s long conflict with the antitrust regulators. Oh, and 8 foot tall Christmas trees for 89 cents!

One last item - since we’re on the subject of A&P in New Orleans, here’s another area store of more modern design, shown shortly after its opening in another A&P publicity shot, from 1968. Featuring a nice contemporary look, this store was highlighted in the 1970 A&P Study by Progressive Grocer magazine.
Note: Thanks to Scott for pointing out an error and supplying some additional information regarding the location of the store pictured below. This store is actually in New Orleans' Garden District, not the French Quarter as previously stated, and still stands at 3233 Magazine Street. The store is now a Breaux Mart, another locally owned chain. Rouse's, who bought most of A&P's area stores, passed on this one owing to its small size.

C'est tout!

6 comments:

  1. The Royal Street A&P had some of the chains highest sales per square feet in the entire chain. While it survived more as a convenience store most of its existence, it was upgraded throughout its life as an A&P, with a small deli-bakery added. Despite its small size, it carried the majority of what anyone needed to shop for groceries, but at a slight price premium.

    The 1968 A&P prototype should have been a priority store design for A&P to roll out in the coming decade. It's interior was reminiscent of the later Kroger superstore and had similar offerings. Of course the track record from that time forward has been excellent store prototypes, including Family Mart, Futurestore, Food Emporium, and more, but never a chainwide focus on any one format and and uneven rollout of formats.

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  2. Dave, as always, thanks so very much for spotlighting the glorious history of Great A&P in your posts.

    Every time I visited the French Quarter, I had to stop and shop at that A&P location. I continue to be amazed how functional that store was.

    And yes, many an artist has captureed this beautiful storefront in watercolours and paintings. I even purchased one, which I admire, everytime I head up the stairs in my home.

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  3. I was in N.O. in '92, before my supermarket obsession. How I wish I would've paid more attention! What a wonderful store in a great location!

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  4. The modern store in this post is NOT in the French Quarter. It is on Magazine St. in the Garden District. It was one of the last stores (Royal St. and an Algiers store were the others) to market as a true A&P store in New Orleans before the selloff. Coincidentally, because of its size, Rouses passed on its purchase. It is now a Breaux's Mart store, part of the local New Orleans chain. Rouses passed on several others, including the aforementioned Algiers A&P. The Magazine street store was very small for a supermarket.

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  6. Ken – I really like the look of the 1968 store as well, and am surprised A&P didn’t use it on a wider basis, although as Scott notes, the store was small. Perhaps the design features wouldn’t have translated that well to the larger stores that followed. You mention Kroger – I do think there’s a slight resemblance to some features of the Greenhouse stores in this design. In my opinion, this store wouldn’t have looked out of place as a new supermarket as late as 1980.

    You have to admit that the basic look here is commonplace today, on scads of small, faceless strip shopping centers, but in 1968 (and for some years afterward) it was fresh.

    Andy – I’d love to have visited this store as an A&P, and would still make a point to visit it under its current ownership when I’m down that way. Definitely lends itself to fine art!

    Mel – “Before my supermarket obsession” – I love that! What has brought this upon us all?

    Scott – Thanks very much for that correction! The Progressive Grocer study misidentifies it as a French Quarter location, which I’ll admit I was skeptical about. I will make a note on the post.

    And it does indeed appear to be a very small store!

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