The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company began in 1859 as a small chain of coffee and tea retailers in the New York City area, which had national sales through mail order. The tea and coffee business expanded, opening their first Chicago store after the Great Fire, and moving as far south as Atlanta. Around 1880 the government placed heavy tariffs on coffee and tea, so the firm began adding sugar, condensed milk, butter, and other sundries to it’s line to make up the lost income. This expanded line-up would be the basis of the modern grocery store.
By 1930 the A&P had become the largest retailer in the nation, twice as large as Sears. There were a few dark clouds on the horizon, however. On both the east and west coast the new concept of the “Supermarket” began to make inroads into the retail market; and there was always a backlash that the powerful retail chain was driving local concerns out of business. Nonetheless, because A&P had not borrowed to facilitate their expansion, the change was in a good position to whether the Great Depression.
The biggest expansion of the A&P was during the same period that Commercial Radio came to be, and the grocer was quick to use the new medium to attract shoppers to their stores. When band-leader Harry Horlick’s family escaped Russia at the beginning of WWI, Harry chose to stay behind, and he wound up as a prisoner of war. Working behind the scenes through the American consul, his family was able to get him released and he came to the US. He began playing in cafe’s around New York with a six piece ensemble, eventually landing an unsponsored spot on WEAF. In 1924 an A&P exec was touring the studio, and heard the group. Horlick was arranging what ever the audience wanted, but he specialized in the Gypsy Music he had learned traveling in Eastern Europe. Thus the A&P Gypsies were born.
The A&P Gypsies radio show was a regular Monday night on-air attraction for many years. In 1933 A&P was part of the Chicago World’s Fair, featuring a large canopied board-walk where tea dances were held, the company providing samples of coffee and tea while the crowds danced to the music of the Gypsies. The attraction was incredibly popular with the program’s legion of loyal fans.