2015-07-29 / Front Page

Another One Bites The Dust As A&P Declares Bankruptcy

By LIZ GOFF
Miles of empty shelves and an eerie silence filled shelves at a Pathmark Super Store in Flushing on July 20 after parent company A&P declared bankruptcy, marking the end for the popular grocer that introduced “big bundle bargains” to Queens residents more than 30 years ago.

Shelves were also empty at a Waldbaum’s store in Jackson Heights, where a handful of workers were sweeping floor in preparation for final closing.

Employees at the two stores left notes pasted to windows that once shouted sale prices. “I came to Whitestone after the Long Island City Pathmark closed a few years ago,” Tania R. wrote. “We were told that our jobs were safe, that Long Island City closed because it didn’t have enough customers. But that was all crap,” Tonia wrote. “A&P lied to us then, they used us here and didn’t even let us know they were going out of business. Most of us found out we didn’t have jobs when he came to work on Monday.”

Tania and other workers at the Flushing Pathmark store said they were never given a hint that A&P was going to close down on July 20. News that the location will reopen as a Stop & Shop Supermarket some time in the near future offered little consolation to Pathmark workers gathered in Flushing on June 20. “We were told we can interview with Stop & Shop for the jobs we’ve been doing for six or eight years,” Javier A. said. “If they like us, we’ll get jobs. Maybe not the same jobs we had, but they said we could get a job doing something in the new store. What are we, like leftover shelves they’ll use in the new store?”

The demise of A&P is the latest in more than a decade of bankruptcies declared by retailers that served generations of Queens residents.

Alexander’s, Abraham & Straus, Korvettes, Ohrbach’s, Caldor and Genovese Drugs are just a few of the familiar names that have gone to dust since 1992. They shut down, one by one, each of the stores saying that a dwindling customer base forced them to file for bankruptcy, or to revert their property to real estate.

“My brother and sister, aunts and uncles all worked in after school jobs at stores like Pathmark or Alexander’s,” Tonia said. “They said it was a good way to make some money to buy clothes and books and stuff. But what do I do now? Do I take another chance at a job like this until I get out of school, or should I just give up or try to get a job babysitting? You can’t trust these jobs anymore, you can’t count on a paycheck from them anymore.”

Another employee said it was rumored since A&P bought the Pathmark chain in 2007 that the stores would eventually close. “I heard that rumor years ago, when I was still in Long Island City,” the worker said. 

 “We were sure we were safe in Long Island City because the store used to be a ‘Super Store’ that had something new,  lots of products available in large bundles, but Costco took care of that>’ the man said.

Threats of job cuts encouraged disgruntled Pathmark employees to settle a contract dispute with A&P in 2010, workers said. “We ended up agreeing to a fifty per cent cut in future salary and benefit packages – with the promise that when things get better for the company, they’ll get better for us,” the workers said. “What a crock.”

Employees at the Waldbaum’s store on 74th Street and 31st Avenue echoed similar sentiments. “It’s not fair,’ a 19-year-old cashier said. “They told us we could interview for jobs at the Key Food store that’s opening here. Why should we have to interview for our own jobs?” the cashier said.

A woman who said she shopped regularly at the Waldbaum’s store told the Gazette she still misses the old A&P stores that served local neighborhoods. “I guess that makes me an old-timer,” the woman said. “But I’m sure there are a lot of younger people who remember the Jane Parker advertisement that stared down at the neighborhood near Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Jane Parker was the brand name for A&P bakery products, and the large sign was painted on a building just outside the park, near College Point Boulevard,” the woman said. “The sign disappeared in the mid-1990s, but I can still see Jane Parker smiling down on people who passed by.”

“I think we miss things like that,” the woman said. “New, mega stores don’t offer the same intimacy, they don’t make us feel like their workers really care about their customers,” the woman said.

A&P was founded in 1869 on Vesey Street in lower Manhattan by George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman as a mail order tea and spice business, and eventually grew into the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. The firm dominated the grocery business in the mid-1930s, operating more than 10,000 stores by the 1940s. It remained a dominant force in the U.S. grocery business throughout the 1940s, until government watchdogs viewed it as a monopoly and forced the breakup of its operations.

A&P filed for bankruptcy in 2010, emerging two years later as a private company with corporate and financial backers. But A&P failed to keep up with the times, and failed to draw new, younger customers to its locations, retail experts said.

A shopper who showed up at the Flushing Pathmark store on July 20th said the closings mark the “end of an era.”

“My mother brought me here to shop with her when I was a little girl,” the woman said. “This place was my first supermarket experience, and I shop here with my own children. It’s just too bad that all of the familiar stores are disappearing,” she said.

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