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'The Great A&P': Revolutionizing Modern Retail03:59

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Brothers George and John A. Hartford opened the first A&P Economy Store in 1912. This storefront photo dates from around 1915. (Hartford Family Foundation)closemore
Brothers George and John A. Hartford opened the first A&P Economy Store in 1912. This storefront photo dates from around 1915. (Hartford Family Foundation)

Long before there was Walmart, there was The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., a giant retailer that used its scale to bring down prices while earning the scorn of independent retailers and the wrath of politicians.

The company, better known as A&P, got its start in the mid-1800s selling tea in Lower Manhattan. But in 1912, brothers John and George Hartford opened an all-new "no frills" Economy Store, revolutionizing the way we buy our food.

Author Marc Levinson talks to NPR's Renee Montagne about what made the burgeoning chain so successful.

"You limited the merchandise to high-turnover merchandise," Levinson says. "You kept limited hours; you didn't give credit; you didn't give delivery; you could run the store at very low cost and you could pass those low prices on to your customers."

By the early 1930s, the company had expanded to almost 16,000 locations. Marc Levinson chronicles the rise (and fall) of A&P in his new book, The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America.

Copyright NPR 2016.

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