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When two men in New York City set up a mail-order tea business in 1859 it was an action that was eventually connected with a new grocery store that opened in Athens in late 1926. The link came about when in 1870 the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company became the A&P Grocery Stores and that was the label on the Athens store.

“A&P Store to Open Here Dec. 1” read the headline in the Nov. 25, 1926 and it was the announcement that the store was to be the “first chain grocery store to open in this city.”

Later, as described in the Dec. 23 Review, it was announced that “another link in the long chain of stores of the Atlantic and Pacific Co. was added this morning when the new Athens store was opened to the public.”  And Athens residents were ready as “large crowds visited the place on the south side of the square.” And like other Texas stores, the Athens store would have the customary red frontage with large gold lettered sign. 

Then, according to the Nov. 17, 1927 Review article, the store added a meat market and the reporter stated that “the market is equipped with the very latest Frigidaire counter and fresh meats of all kinds will be handled.”

Expansion was the order of the day when the March 15, 1928 Athens Review article announced that the store was soon to move to a new space that was two and a half times the amount of space in their first location. In fact, they were to occupy into the entire LaRue Building on the south side of the Courthouse Square. The new location would have a single low window across the front of the building to admit light and reveal the interior and the products available. Also, the display cases and the shelves were to be rearranged to “conform to the latest methods of rapid handling of groceries.”

Then came the fire – as described in the Oct. 11, 1928 Athens Review under the headline “A&P Grocery Has Fire Loss.”

On the last Saturday night around midnight a group of boys in the town square heard the shattering of a plate glass window and summoned firefighters who soon arrived to extinguish the blaze. There was several thousand dollars of damage.

Authorities discovered that the fire had started in a storage room in the rear of the store and damage was pretty much limited to that area. However, “slight damage by smoke was suffered in the retail department, but all damaged goods in this department have been removed and the store is running as usual.” The manager related that new deliveries would shortly restock the store.

Investigators believed that the blaze was caused by kerosene soaked rags found scattered in the rear of the store. Also, the bar that secured the back door had been removed and it was assumed that someone had started the fire then escaped through the unblocked door.  

The building’s owner, J.T. LaRue stated that he believed the fire had been set and was so offering a “liberal reward” for capture of the culprits.

However, the fire did not affect the store’s bottom line since over the next few years profits steadily increased for the Athens A&P store, as revealed in the March 10, 1932 Athens Review. In fact all the stores in that part of Texas had recorded increased sales. Then over the next years the Athens A&P store would occupy several other locations in Athens.

The entire A&P chain of scores started in 1859 when George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman began a mail order tea business in New York City and then as the business became more and more successful it took the name of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company in 1870.

The chain opened a new type of operation in 1912 with the A&P Economy Store which sought to cut costs by eliminating credit accounts and delivery. These stores were small, and often located on side streets to the Main Street locations, and were designed to be able to relocate if necessary.

By the 1950s A&P became a dominant retailer in the United States – yet over the next few years more stores were being closed than were being opened. Finally by 2016 the final locations closed, thus ending a 156 year retail tradition.