[FoRK] Walmart: the A&P of our generation

Jim Whitehead ejw at cse.ucsc.edu
Thu Jul 8 11:19:25 PDT 2004

I recently started reading Daniel Boorstin's history book "The Americans",
winner of the 1973 Pulitzer Prize
(http://www.rosettabooks.com/pages/title_81.html), an overall very fun read,
and despite its 33 year age, not very dated.

The book describes the rise of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company,
which we all know as the A&P supermarket chain
(http://www.aptea.com/history.asp). Turns out A&P was, in its heyday of the
1930's, the dominant grocery chain in the US, with over 16,000 stores and
over $1 billion in sales. The key to its success was buying in bulk, passing
savings along to consumers, and an operations model in which you only needed
a single person running the store at any time.

All of the rhetoric used against Walmart today was used against A&P (and
other chain stores) in the 1930's, and the arguments are uncannily similar.
In Boorstin's book you could almost do a search/replace A&P/Walmart and
still have a readable text (the dates would be off). Anti-chain store
sentiment led to passage of the Robinson-Patman Act, which forbade any
person or firm engaged in interstate commerce to discriminate in price to
different purchasers of the same commodity when the effect would be to
lessen competition or to create a monopoly.

- Jim

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