The Great A&P is shrinking

Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, the food store giant known as A&P, is fast shrinking. A company spokesman announced that A&P is pulling out of the Chicago market, closing its remaining 42 stores. A&P once had as many as 150 Chicago-area stores, but the spokesman said the firm's Chicago division ''has had a long history of unprofitability.''

A&P, which hasn't reported a profit in four years, will keep open two Plus stores, which are smaller, limited-assortment discount stores, and one Super Plus store.

On March 1, A&P announced it was closing 29 of its 75 remaining stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Before that, it closed its Kansas City and Louisville divisions.

The East Coast closings are ''part of an overall revitalization program we announced last October to reduce losing operations and put the company in a better profitmaking posture in 1982,'' said Michael Rourke, vice-president for communications and corporate affairs.

The company used to operate 3,600 stores nationwide but has now cut back to about 1,000.

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