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As the iconic chain fights to stay relevant in the age of Whole Foods, its real challenge might be even bigger: overcoming the dark changes to the American economy. Just look, he tells me, at the chips. Five years ago, he says, gesturing toward a wall of snack foods like a docent guiding me through an art gallery, the healthy options — like, say, blue corn tortilla — might have occupied four feet of shelving space.

And look at the broth. Of just broth! To Philadelphians of a certain age, these victories are particularly welcome. For three decades, though, the sense of Acme as cultural bedrock has only been history.

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The chain has fallen from first place in the market — in the mids it held an astonishing 34 percent market share — to fourth. Today it clings, according to industry bible Food Trade News , to a slim nine percent share of the grocery pie, behind ShopRite, Wawa and Giant. In this field of varietals, Acme lacks sex appeal. Prices are higher than at its rivals.

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The real story is how Acme fell so far in the first place. Its growth into the most powerful supermarket chain in Philadelphia was a shining example of capitalism done right — a symbiotic relationship from which owners, employees and customers all derived great benefits. The partners added about one store per year before quickening their pace. Then, in , they led a massive merger of rivals, ballooned their holdings to more than 1, outlets, and incorporated under the name American Stores. Robinson was true to his word, and his stores set the pace of change for the entire retail food industry.

Acme helped lead the shift from counter service, in which customers presented their grocery lists to clerks who fetched the items, to open floor plans and wheeled carts. As the automobile revolutionized travel, Robinson purchased land around his stores to create customer parking. And when he died, in , he left behind a legacy built to outlast him.

By the mids, in fact, Acme had weathered the evolution from corner stores to supermarkets and dominated the eight-county Philadelphia region. Jobs with American Stores, which unionized by , were prized. And for all the innovations, American Stores operated in a steady manner — seeking growth, long-term, by offering customers and employees the same experience: a store, and job, that felt like an extension of home. And they were very proud to work in the stores their grandparents did. Supermarkets traditionally operate on tiny margins of around two percent and require constant vigilance to track changing consumer tastes — from Chef Boyardee to fresh branzino.

But in recent years, the whole industry has been disrupted. Markets like Whole Foods and Wegmans cater to foodies, with products like avocado ice cream, sea fennel and algae. Outfits like Aldi and Costco aim at bulk buyers and economically stressed families. And superstores like Walmart and Target offer bargain groceries — often at a loss — in order to move higher-profit items, from lawn fertilizer to flat-screen TVs. And going forward, the pressures on undifferentiated stores like ShopRite, Giant and Acme will only increase.

One threat is digital. A report by UBS, a financial analyst, concludes that 75, retail outlets in clothing, electronics, furniture and more will close in coming years, shuttered by online competition. Online food sales are only expected to make up five percent of the retail food industry by , but e-commerce is the fastest-growing segment of the market. The upshot is that the big family grocery store of yesteryear is under siege, with shopping carts, over the long term, pointed the same direction as horse-drawn carriages: out.

Today, that means reframing outlets to co-opt particular niches as well as increasing digital and delivery services over time as a complement to brick-and-mortar stores. Photograph by Adam Jones. Jim Perkins started as a bagger in a California Albertsons 37 years ago and fell in love with retail business. Locations in Paoli, Havertown and the Snyder Avenue shopping complex a brand-new store are modern and inviting. But the Upper Darby location, on Lansdowne Avenue, is sad and uninspiring.

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    Just got back and the trip was a success! Did 3 separate transactions: 6 2 liter bottles Coke products No Dr. For soda addicts like my wife and I, this deal is the bees knees! Even after I cleaned out 6 of em. Good Luck! Permanent Ban. Quote from MoneyMags :. L5: Journeyman. Shoprite is getting my business lately with their rocking deals lately. Come on ACME!!