A trip to the A&P was a family affair

The national supermarket chain seemed to fit into Baltimore's neighborhoods

April 15, 2011|Jacques Kelly

It's hard to believe there may be a day soon when there's no Superfresh in Maryland. I grew up with its corporate parent, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. The A&P seemed to be everywhere, even the little ones with wooden floors and the mechanical coffee grinders adjacent to the Cross Street and Broadway markets.

I can see the Art Deco-style bags for the Eight O'Clock, Red Circle and Bokar coffees that were ground as you waited. We had Jane Parker iced Spanish bar cake, Iona canned goods and Ann Page pineapple preserves. It was a national chain that somehow seemed to fit into Baltimore's neighborhoods and their contours.

Everyone had a favorite A&P. Ours was a blond brick model on Gorsuch Avenue in Waverly. When built, there was an A&P on one side of the store; the other half of the square footage was leased to an Acme. About 1959, the A&P took over its competitor's space and wowed the neighborhood by doubling its size.

The two stores divided neighborhood loyalties. You went either one way (Acme) or the other (A&P). Except, of course, if you were a devoted duckpin bowler.

The second floor of the grocery building at Gorsuch Avenue and Old York Road was the domain of Stadium Bowling Lanes. It was here that I spent many a Saturday afternoon while Chubby Checker records played over the loudspeakers. It was a testament to how well-constructed this building was that you could not hear the sound of strikes and spares when you shopped for pickles and ground beef.

Mine was an A&P family. And each Wednesday, my mother, grandmother and great-aunt did the marketing.

Come a midweek in, say, 1954, we'd head for the store, usually not driving our car but pushing a roomy brown wicker baby carriage. On the way to the store, it was empty, except for me, a 4-year-old, because I frequently refused to walk. On the way back, I preferred to ride as well and sat stuffed hemmed in by grocery bags.

Although the store possessed a parking lot, many customers arrived as we did, on foot. A few dashed through the aisles quickly because they had a Baltimore Transit Co. transfer and had a few minutes to shop on the interchange between the No. 8 Greenmount Avenue streetcar and the No. 3 Northwood bus.

In the 1950s, Baltimore was changing, but Waverly retained the feel of the 19th-century Baltimore County village it once was. The asphalt on Gorsuch Avenue still held a pair of streetcar tracks, even though the cars had stopped running there some years earlier. Greenmount Avenue had dozens of small shops where you were instantly recognized upon entering (and probably talked about after you left).

My grandmother was not given to much talking, but she did seem to come alive conversationally in the aisles of that A&P. She chatted up Mr. Smith, the manager (I never knew his first name), and then caught up on the neighborhood news from her fellow shoppers.

One of her regular talkers was Mike Schofield, who was famous in the neighborhood as the groundskeeper for old Oriole Park on 29th Street. Mike was doubly famous because he slept in quarters inside the wooden grandstand and was present during the early morning hours of July 4, 1944, when the Orioles' home went up in flames.

Over the years, many of the old customers switched their shopping to other A&Ps that were perhaps newer or in a more glamorous location. My father, however, shopped at the Waverly store to the end. It just had a good shopping karma. The A&P exuded a wholesomeness shared by the Durkee movie, Read's drugs and the Arundel ice cream chains.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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