MONTVALE, N.J. — When your newest sales vehicle is actually 80 years old, you know you've traveled a long way.
Specifically, it's a 1928 Ford Model A truck, purchased by A&P here recently and refurbished to resemble the fleet of shiny red delivery vehicles the retailer used during the 1920s and 1930s. A&P today rolls out the truck — complete with a load of branded groceries in classic packaging — for company and community events.
The project was conceived and overseen by a group A&P's own employees who have taken an interest in studying and preserving the history of the company.
“I've always been into classic automobiles — that's what started my interest in history,” Craig Grybowski, who works in the marketing department at A&P and serves an unpaid role as the president of the A&P Historical Society, said in an interview with SN.
Grybowski has served as president of the society for about a decade. The group was founded by two of his colleagues in 1996 who felt there was value in embracing the company's rich history — and a dearth of awareness of it.
The A&P Historical Society maintains a collection of historic photographs and company memorabilia, ranging from die-cast toys to coffee mugs bearing the logo of the failed WEO discount store, to classic product packages, employee uniforms and company documents. It has staged a number of historic museum openings and is in the process of planning exhibits in 2009 to coincide with the retailer's 150th anniversary.
The group maintains a website where members can discuss history and exchange research questions. It also tackles large projects like the automobile purchase. When a Philadelphia-based member noted that an old industrial building still bore a sign identifying it as the A&P Philadelphia Bakery, the group had the 800-pound sign removed and installed inside the lobby of the Montvale headquarters.
A&P's history, according to Grybowski, is a story not only of retailing, but of businesses including manufacturing, transportation, food, product branding, building and publishing. As a retailer that at one time resided in small and large towns across the country, A&P has a special place in America's consciousness, he added.
“It wasn't only a grocery store; it was synonymous with the grocery store,” Grybowski said. “I hear from people all over the country who grew up with A&P. You can't meet anyone with parents or grandparents across the country who doesn't have a memory of shopping there, and has fond memories of going into the stores and smelling fresh-ground coffee.”