Countless grocery store chains have come and gone over the years, many that were household names at one point in time. With competition from upstarts, razor thin profit margins, and the changing retail landscape and shopping preferences across America, stores that were once a key part of communities have practically faded from memory. Here’s a look at some of the once thriving and beloved grocery stores that have permanently shuttered over the past few decades.
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Perhaps one of the best-known defunct grocery store chains, A&P, or the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, traces its roots back to 1859, beginning as a mail-order tea business in New York City (initially called the Great American Tea Company), and would go on to open its first small grocery store in 1912. Over the years, it grew to be one of the top grocery stores in the country. After managing to survive for 165 years things went south for the supermarket giant in a big way in 2015. Industry watchers say the company was unable to evolve with the times and was crippled by a misguided focus. That year A&P filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and all stores closed.
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Those who have spent any amount of time in Florida will remember the Kash n’ Karry chain, best known for providing quick service to help get busy shoppers in and out the door (including doing the unheard of in this day and age — opening a new checkout lane if there were three customers waiting in line). The store’s roots were in Tampa, where Italian immigrant Salvatore Greco began selling fruits and vegetables on the streets of the city. Greco slowly grew his business over the years, moving from the street to selling food from a storefront in his home, and eventually, in the 1960s operating nine stores. In 1979, Lucky Stores bought Kash n’ Karry, and at its height the chain had 117 stores. Kash n’ Karry eventually fell victim to growing too fast and too much competition from similar supermarket chains. The last Kash n’ Karry closed in 2007.
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A grocery store chain best known for its little cowboy mascot, Alpha Beta began in 1910 and lasted until about 1995. The store started in California, but eventually expanded throughout most of the country. With locations primarily in suburbs, shoppers during the 1950s began referring to Alpha Beta as “the country club,” because it became a place to meet all of your friends. But after a hostile takeover in 1979, Alpha Beta began a slow decline. In 1994, a merger with Ralphs Grocery Co. was announced, the result of which was that the Alpha Beta name was eliminated and eventually all of the stores became Ralphs.
Though not a full-fledged grocery store like the others on this list, at its height White Hen Pantry became beloved for being a place that could practically replace your grocery-store run. The store offered everything from deli platters to milk and juice. At its peak, White Hen had 245 stores in the Chicago region and 55 in the Boston area. White Hen’s decline began in 2000, around the time it was sold to Clark Retail Group. The combined forces of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a fickle consumer market did not bode well for the store. Two years later, its parent company, Clark Retail Enterprises, filed for bankruptcy. After various sales and acquisitions, in 2006 the still-struggling chain became part of 7-Eleven and the stores were renamed as such.
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Another once-legendary Chicago chain, Dominick’s started in 1918 and grew to about 72 stores. Though once a local institution, Dominick’s fell victim to an increasingly competitive landscape, by some accounts being impacted on the discount side of business by the likes of Walmart and Target and on the high-end by such competitors as Mariano’s and Whole Foods. The steep cost of unionized labor proved to be another challenge for Dominick’s. The chain also failed to modernize over the years and offer customers any compelling reason to continue shopping there.
Those of a certain age probably won’t remember that Kohl’s started as a grocery store. Yes, that’s right, it sold food first. The store now famous for discount clothing was started by Polish immigrant Maxwell Kohl in 1927 in Milwaukee. Over the years, Kohl expanded and grew his business to not only be the largest supermarket chain in Milwaukee (and what some described as the epitome of the modern supermarket) but to also include drug stores, liquor stores, and more. Eventually, Kohls sold a controlling interest in its stores to a subsidiary of the British American Tobacco Company. In 2003, the grocery stores were shuttered by owner Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.
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Launched in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Food Fair got its start in the 1920s and eventually grew to be among the top five grocery stores in the United States with about 500 stores. Primarily located throughout the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, Food Fair expanded into Florida and even had a few outposts in California at one point. By the 1980s, however, the store disappeared, rebranded as Pantry Pride. Before departing from the retail grocery landscape, Food Fair embraced a variety of innovations that grew to be quite popular including electronic registers, scanning, UPC, and discount grocery stores.
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Long a fixture on the grocery store landscape in New York, Grand Union at one point operated 222 supermarkets in six states, including Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. Each Grand Union store was designed to meet local needs and included a variety of brand name and private label groceries. Some locations also included cafes and pharmacies. In 2001, the company filed for bankruptcy and was purchased by C&S Wholesale Grocers, which sold it to Tops Friendly Markets. A year later, the new owner brought an end to the Grand Union brand.
Known for its steep discounts, which were anywhere from 25% to 30% off regular grocery prices, Ultra Foods made its appearance in the 1980s operating primarily in northern Indiana and Chicago. It eventually grew to have about 16 locations but like many other grocers, Ultra was up against steep competition. In 2017, the last Ultra became part of the popular Indiana-based chain Strack & Van Til.
An early arrival on the grocery store landscape, by 1920 National Tea had more than 1,600 locations nationwide and sales were around $90 million annually. The arrival of the Great Depression dealt the store a severe blow, and many locations closed. However, National Tea still managed to remain one of the largest grocery chains in the country until the 1970s. In 1976, it was sold to A&P.
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A staple on the grocery landscape throughout the South, Jitney Jungle began in Mississippi in 1919 and then branched out across the Southeast. The history of this grocery store company is something of an example of the changes that took place in food retailing during the 20th century beginning with self-service store design in the 1920s and then moving on to the rise of supermarkets in the 1930s and later the discount megamarkets of the 1970s. Remarkably, Jitney Jungle remained a private, family-owned grocery chain until 1996. By 2000, however, its run was over and Winn-Dixie absorbed the chain and rebranded its stores.
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A store well-known throughout Florida — at least until Publix burst onto the scene — Pantry Pride got its start in the 1960s. The birth of the store was the result of Food Fair purchasing a competitor known as Best Markets, which had a private label brand called Pantry Pride. The Best Markets name became a thing of the past, but its private label was given the honor of becoming the store’s new name. By the mid-1980s however, Pantry Pride was in financial straits and thus began its eventual slide into obscurity, including shareholders approving a deal giving control to New York-based McAndrews & Forbes Acquisition Corp. At its peak, the chain included 440 supermarkets in seven states on the East Coast and the Bahamas.
Launched by U.K.-based Tesco, Fresh & Easy was an attempt to break into the U.S. market in 2007. The company floundered, however, twice filing for bankruptcy. The second filing in 2015 brought a final end to the chain. Fresh & Easy was plagued by a variety of problems including not investing the money to attract shoppers, failing to communicate the store’s mission, and distribution snags that turned customers off. Before it went completely kaput, however, there were more than 150 Fresh & Easy stores in operation. The early vision for the store was to be a chain of healthful convenience stores.
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Leominster, Massachusetts-based Victory Super Markets was founded in 1923 by two brothers James and Louis DiGeronimo. Its name had the unique distinction of being based on the American war effort in World War I. During its 81-year run, Victory Super Markets grew to be a 20-store chain that employed more than 2,600 workers and generated annual revenue of about $385 million. Ultimately, however, it was sold to Hannaford Brothers Company in 2004, bringing an end to the chain.
A store that operated primarily in New York and then expanded into New Jersey and Connecticut, Waldbaum’s sold a variety of grocery products including deli meat, dairy, baked goods, produce and frozen foods. It managed to stay in business for a stellar 115 years but eventually was bought by A&P in 1986. Waldbaum’s officially ceased operations alongside its parent company in 2015.
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A grocery store chain that flourished throughout Indiana and Ohio, eventually opening dozens of stores, Marsh Supermarkets filed for bankruptcy in 2017. Founded in 1931, it lasted for 88 years before shuttering. The company suffered a long slow decline under the ownership of a private-equity firm that did not understand how to operate grocery stores.
Once well-known and beloved all across the Midwest, Eagle Food Centers suffered the same fate as many other grocery stores on this list — fierce competition from major grocery chains and also from supercenter retailers with lower labor costs and economies of scale. The company-owned and operated 61 supermarkets in Illinois and Iowa. In 2000, Eagle Food Centers filed for bankruptcy, and by 2003 all of its locations had gone out of business.
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