One of The Wall Street Journal's Best Non fiction Books of 2011. From modest beginnings as a tea shop in New York, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company became the largest retailer in the world. It was a juggernaut, the first retailer to sell $1 billion in goods, the owner of nearly sixteen thousand stores and dozens of factories and warehouses. But its explosive growth made it a mortal threat to hundreds of thousands of mom-and-pop grocery stores. Main Street fought back tooth and nail, enlisting the state and federal governments to stop price discounting, tax chain stores, and require manufacturers to sell to mom and pop at the same prices granted to giant retailers. In a remarkable court case, the federal government pressed criminal charges against the Great A&P for selling food too cheaply—and won. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America is the story of a stunningly successful company that forever changed how Americans shop and what Americans eat. It is a brilliant business history, the story of how 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 built the modern consumer economy by turning the archaic retail industry into a highly efficient system for distributing food at low cost.
Marc Levinson has a gift for discovering business history stories that cut to the heart of how industries are transformed. He did so brilliantly with the award-winning The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, which was short-listed for the 2006 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.
Praise for The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America “Mr. Levinson has written an absorbing history of one company’s amazing rise—and what such success means in a nation with conflicting ideals about big business. It is more than a rich business history; it is a mirror to our own conflicting wants and visions of who and what we should be.” —The New York Times “Mr. Levinson writes engagingly, and he exhibits no overt political brief. Anyone with a common-sense grasp of business practices will find the author's points clearly and fairly presented.” —The Wall Street Journal “Levinson, who has burrowed deep in the archives, makes this story clear and compelling—and shows why A&P was both a boon to consumers and, in the words of an FDR-era federal prosecutor, ‘a gigantic blood sucker.’ Shades of Walmart?” —The Atlantic “[A] book about a by-gone era that I enjoyed was The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America by Marc Levinson. It is about the rise and fall of the A&P grocery chain, once the largest retailer in the world, with 15,000 stores, and renowned for its high quality and low prices . . . But this is more than an economic story. It is a human story about a family that dedicated itself to making its business the best it could be—and how the death of the last member of that family was followed by A&P’s decline into oblivion.” —Thomas Sowell, Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy, Hoover Institution “[A] superb business study and an entertaining read.” —The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
“The fleeting nature of success in business—even for companies that revolutionized their sectors—is among the many useful lessons of this book. A&P’s legacy is apparent every time we set food in a modern grocery store, even if the company itself long ago fell victim to many of the forces it unleashed.” —The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
“Levinson makes it read like a novel . . . A great study of responding to the need to adapt to market and economic pressures to survive.” —Booklist
“This is the kind of masterful business narrative that explains both the past and the present in an illuminating new light. Marc Levinson’s highly insightful story of A&P—and its opponents—is essential reading for all those who seek to understand the love-hate relationship Americans have with the oversized consumer economy of our own day.” —Nelson Lichtenstein, author of The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business
“What a splendid book! The rise and fall of A&P provides a rare window into the American experience—not just the creation of the world's largest retailer but the transformation of a nation dominated by small shops and local merchants into one of massive chains, well-known brands, and aggressive discounters. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America shows that even the largest corporate goliaths are not immune to the insistent forces of competition and change. No one could have told this riveting tale better than Levinson—a historian, journalist, and economist—whose crisp and compelling writing makes the narrative’s rich detail always run smoothly.” —Robert J. Samuelson, columnist for Newsweek and The Washington Post
Praise for The Box
“A classic tale of trial and error, and of creative destruction.” —Virginia Postrel, The New York Times
“A marvelous read for anyone who cares about how the interconnected world economy came to be.” —Neil Irwin, Washington Post