Margaretville A&P Supermarket part of historic chain
By Julia Green
The A&P store in Margaretville is closing its doors this month, on the threshold of the company’s 150th year of operations.
Once the dominant food retailer in the United States, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, better known under the banner A&P, was founded in New York City in 1859. Originally focused on the tea business, selling tea, coffee and spices from a storefront on Vesey Street in Lower Manhattan, the company had grown to 67 stores by 1876.
The company hit its peak in the 1930s, when it was operating close to 16,000 stores nationwide. The first store with a “grocery store” format opened in 1912, and the first supermarket opened in Braddock, Pa., in 1936.
The A&P was the top food retailer in the country in the 1950s, but has been in a steady decline since, dropping from 10,000 stores in the middle of the decade to a mere 444 currently in operation. One hundred and ten of those operate under the A&P banner. As of this month, however, that number will be one less.
By the end of the month, what is currently the Margaretville A&P will become home to a Freshtown supermarket.
Former Margaretville resident and MCS graduate Gilbert Close began working at the A&P part time in 1960. After moving around within the A&P organization and working at locations in Ithaca, Hancock and Downsville, he became a manager at the Downsville location in 1969 before returning to manage the Margaretville location in 1975.
Close served as the manager at the Margaretville A&P for 30 years.
“A&P had 5,500 stores when I started,” he said. “When I left, it had 500 or less.”
The current A&P was built in 1967 and officially opened its doors in 1968. It has grown significantly since its construction, with two extensions to the original footprint, the most recent in 1984, when the deli was added.
Over the years, Close said, the store went through a “lot of changes: a lot of people, a lot of supervisors, a lot of vice presidents.” He also saw a noticeable difference in the business the store did.
“Business from, say, June until July – the summer business – there was a big gap in it,” he said. “We would jump like $50,000 in one week, then when Labor Day came, we’d drop that $50,000. But when I left, it got to where every week was a big week, and with summers and winters there wasn’t a big difference.
The A&P was originally housed in two different locations on Main Street, the second of which was the current Masonic building, until 1967. Enter: the Pennsylvania-based Dushney Bros. Corporation.
The corporation purchased the house belonging to the People’s National Bank of Margaretville Vice President Garland Gladstone, the Buick and Oldsmobile dealership belonging to John Andre, the shoe shop belonging to William Murphy and a restaurant to create the current A&P plaza.
The plaza became home to the A&P, Dalrymple’s variety store, Brooks’ drug store and a Laundromat.
Nearly 30 years later, in 1996, the A&P was a microcosm of the village as a whole when it was gutted by the flood that ripped through the village in January and lost 100% of its merchandise. Close remembers a visit from Governor Pataki to the store, which was restocked, cleaned up, and reopened by the start of March.
And, given its location and its status as the lone supermarket in town, the A&P has inevitably become a hub of the village.
“The A&P was kind of the center of Margaretville,” he added. “Even in the older store on Main Street where I started – that’s where I started, in a little wooden store on Main Street – there were four aisles. I enjoyed my job because I enjoyed the people, all my customers. I had tons of great people, great customers. And then it went from a camping community and a farming community to subdivisions where the farms were gone and subdivided, and then the big homes and the big money came in. That was a big change for Margaretville, losing the farms and the dairy farms. Now, it actually survives on second homeowners.”