The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America
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One of The Wall Street Journal's Best Non fiction Books of 2011.
From modest beginnings as a tea shop, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company became the largest retailer in the world. It was a juggernaut, with nearly sixteen thousand stores. But its explosive growth made it a mortal threat to mom-and-pop grocery stores across the nation. Main Street fought back tooth and nail, leading the Hoover, Roosevelt, and Truman administrations to investigate the Great A&P. In a remarkable court case, the government pressed criminal charges against the company for selling food too cheaply-and won.
In The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, the acclaimed historian Marc Levinson tells the story of a struggle between small business and big business that tore America apart. George and John Hartford took over their father's business and reshaped it again and again, turning it into a vertically integrated behemoth that paved the way for every big-box retailer to come. George demanded a rock-solid balance sheet; John was the marketer-entrepreneur who led A&P through seven decades of rapid changes. Together, they set the stage for the modern consumer economy by turning an archaic retail industry into a highly efficient system for distributing food at low cost.
indictment was filled with irrelevant and inflammatory statements. The government appealed, and a federal appeals court reinstated most of the charges; it agreed, however, that there was no case against Carl Byoir. Prosecutors, realizing that a trial in Dallas would be run by a judge who was evidently hostile to their case, withdrew the complaint on February 26, 1944. The same day, they filed new charges against all the original defendants, including Byoir, eight hundred miles away, in the
Stores: Menace or Promise?” New Republic, April 15–29, 1931; Arthur Capper, “The Chain Store Problem,” address over WJSV, March 21, 1930, collection 12, box 38, KSHS. 23. Jackson v. State Board of Tax Commissioners of Indiana, 38 F.2d 652 (1930); State Board of Tax Commissioners v. Jackson, 283 U.S. 527 (1931); Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. v. Maxwell, 284 U.S. 575 (1931). 24. Lebhar, Chain Stores in America, 129, 168. 25. Minutes of the meeting of division presidents, November 10–11,
than with trying to hold together a society that was fraying badly after six years of the Depression. As Hatton Sumners, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wrote eloquently in a confidential letter to an old friend, if Congress failed to help the small businessman, “some man like Huey Long” might come along and demand that government take over big companies. Sumners added: “I believe I can read with some degree of accuracy the signs of the times. These things give to me the deepest
support of the president’s favorite cause. In return, he had access, strengthened by close ties to McIntyre and to Stephen Early, the president’s press secretary. In late 1936, McIntyre and his wife vacationed at the Doherty-owned Biltmore in Coral Gables as Byoir’s guest, and Byoir tried to hire Early as a partner in his firm. During Roosevelt’s first four years in office, Byoir paid fourteen recorded visits to the White House. On October 10, 1934, he met with the president to offer a plan to
Josephine, called Minnie, was born a year later, their son George Ludlum in 1865. When he was called for military service in February 1865, the thirty-one-year-old Hartford, like almost all Union conscripts, avoided service by paying one of the many intermediaries that arranged substitutes; Peter Bruin, a Scottish-born merchant seaman with a “florid” complexion, joined the U.S. Navy in Hartford’s stead. Hartford stayed with Great American, winning a promotion from clerk to bookkeeper and then, in