Historic Properties – “Shawano has History”

A&P Grocery


Photo Gallery

A Brief History

 A&P Grocery Store
209 S. Main St.
Shawano, Wisconsin

Built in 1947, the A&P Grocery Store was the first “modern supermarket” in Shawano.   After A&P, it became the Red Owl grocery store.   In 2023 its the home of an auto supply business.

From the 1999 National Register of Historic Places Registration application:

As early as the mid-1920s, self-service and “combination” stores were becoming prevalent nationwide in the A&P chain; by 1932 nearly one third of A&P stores in the United States operated according to one or both of these systems.  Unlike its nineteenth-century predecessor self-service grocery stores placed goods in low stands within reach of the customer, who then directly selected the goods sought; establishments referred to as “combination” stores incorporated goods traditionally supplied outside of the grocery, such as meats and baked goods. Either system, however, required more horizontal display space than the traditional narrow commercial storefront, and in locations where wider storefronts were not available and transportation impediments made outlying areas undesirable, even national grocery chains accepted downtown locations with narrow storefronts in order to be close to established retail traffic.

As a result, the first Shawano A&P location probably employed only modest innovations, and any expansion plans are likely to have been delayed by the Depression and World War II. The modest innovations they did employ, however, along with its corporate chain buying power, generally gave national chain grocery stores a considerable advantage over independent competition.  The construction of the new building in 1947 allowed the Shawano operation to become a “supermarket,” a term which by the postwar had come to mean a massive, almost completely self-service market carrying a complete and extensive assortment of food products, including baked goods and meats.  The wide, low building allowed the use of numerous interior aisles between free-standing shelves, including a large freezer system for prepackaged meats, a 1939 A&P innovation,  and a variety of other innovations that within a few years would be replicated in non-downtown supermarkets across the Shawano region. Significantly, A&P included a parking lot adjoining its new building, although the building itself followed the commercial district’s established norm of zero setback from the sidewalk, in parallel with nearby older commercial buildings. As a result, these four buildings excellently represent the development of the Shawano Main Street Historic District’s historic significance as a commercial food retail center from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. From specialized efforts based on nineteenth-century models, using norms of operation common to many kinds of business, to transitional semi-self service operations dominated by national or regional grocery chains, to the construction of buildings designed specifically to meet the expanded needs of the supermarket, the retail food business’s evolution in Shawano is represented in full by these extant buildings.