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A & P’s Chapter 11 and my Chapter 1

Posted Dec 13 2010 3:49pm

A & P, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, is being ahem reorganized.

The company’s Chapter 11 filing today is juxtaposed in my mind closer to Chapter 1 of my life.

The biting cold wind of this mid-December day reminds me of the A & P of my childhood.  (You might have read a story I wrote about this recently but I mistakenly over-rode its url for something else – thereby deleting it sans backup – so today’s timely business story has prompted me to try again.)

A & P, on Victoria Street in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec, was one of only a couple of grocery stores in the small downtown area and, by today’s standards, would not be described as a supermarket.  It was located in a gray stone building in a row of stores with apartments over top, just steps away from the old post office’s iconic clock tower.

Shopping day was always Thursday.  Dad would bring home his pay cheque at lunch time (imagine the luxury of being able to drive clear across town to come home for lunch every day!).  Then after a brief “stretch out” after his lunch, those of us still not in school would get in the car with Mom and Dad for the afternoon’s outing. 

Valleyfield 4a © RCIP 2010. Tous droits réservés

We’d drop Craig off at school, take Dad back to work (“Toodle-oo”, he always exclaimed) and then Mom would slide across the front seat into the driver’s position to carry on with Lynn and me in the back-seat.  (She was sixteen months my junior, and therefore the youngest, until Janice’s arrival when I was eight.)

I don’t remember parking being much of an issue along Victoria Street but I’ll admit to have been too young to notice if it was.  I can picture Lynn and me taking Mom’s hand, one on each side, Mom lifting us over snowdrifts at the curb.

Mom would have made sure our faces were sufficiently covered to protect us from the cold and wind.  I still remember how much I liked the feeling of Mom pulling scarves tight, making sure our jacket zippers were all the way up, and the feel of her adult-sized fingers touching my cheeks.

I believe there were two side-by-side doors at the A & P, an entrance and an exit, but the doors were heavy and only Mom could open them.  There was a slight slope up from the sidewalk to the doors with bristly, rubber mats where we could give our feet a preliminary snow-loosening stomp.  (There was always a supply of flattened cardboard boxes on the floor just inside the door where we were expected to try to finish the clean-off.)

The shopping experience, no matter what the time of year, was not too memorable for me in those early days although I am sure that my sister and I tried unsuccessfully to pull our favourite things into the big, four-wheeled cart.

What has stayed with me all these years is what went on at the end of one aisle near the check-out.  It contributes to my sensory memories of cold cheeks and toes, sweat on my brow and perpetual sniffles. A crimson red machine stood there with silver knobs and a chute up on top (I couldn’t find a stock photo of that description.)  Coffee beans came out of boxes that looked like gum machines, flowing into paper bags which people filled, one at a time, then poured their beans into that chute up top.  After making a very loud noise, the bags were placed at a mouth at the bottom of the machine and out came coffee, all ground into small bits like sand.  The smell was fantastic and it permeated the store as stray grinds fell onto the wet cardboard all around.

I didn’t drink coffee until I was much older, by which time this old store had closed, replaced by a sporting goods outlet.  I think our next grocery stores were Spot and then Steinberg’s but I will never forget A & P for its coffee aroma, evident to anyone coming in the front door (in all four seasons). 

Eight O’clock Coffee!

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