Common Dreams, February 27, 2016
by Stacy Mitchell
All great empires eventually fall. This is as true in retail as it is in geopolitics. Often the descent into oblivion takes decades. A&P, which was once such a formidable market power that it was the subject of antitrust hearings in Congress, began to falter in the 1950s, some 80 years after cloning its first store. At the time, it was by far the largest grocer in the country. It would remain the industry leader for another quarter of a century, even as its stores seemed increasingly outdated and its corporate practices inexplicably unable to keep up. After several rounds of store closures in the 1970s and 1980s, and a bankruptcy filing in 2010, A&P finally threw in the towel for good just last year. By then, it was a two-bit player in the grocery business, its once continent-spanning empire now confined to the Northeast.
The fall of Montgomery Ward was also a long time coming. The company altered the course of 20th century retailing by pioneering the general merchandise store, and then it tripped and stumbled for nearly 50 years before its final Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2000. Those decades saw the company undergo various retrenchments, corporate takeovers, and attempted reinventions. “A very difficult retail environment simply did not permit us to complete the turnaround that might have been possible,” Montgomery Ward’s last CEO still maintained on the day the lights finally went out, 84 years after the retailer opened its first store.