|As early as 1913 the AFPD, which at the time had only a handful of members who were butcher shop owners, and was called the Detroit Retail Meat Merchants Association, began lobbying on behalf of its members. Lobbying in support of legislation and initiatives that make operating businesses easier for its members, and protesting against those that make it tougher, has been the hallmark of the AFPD's mission since its inception in 1910.|
Arabo’s father passed away a few years ago. After emigrating to the United States from Baghdad, Iraq he eventually became a successful entrepreneur in California owning a supermarket he operated with a hard work ethic.
“I left my legal career to protect guys like my father, and that’s why I do this. A lot of these guys I see my dad in them, not just supermarkets but also the gas station and convenient store owners. I see the family values, I see the long hours they put in, I see them wanting to give a better life to their kids. I want to be a part of making that a reality,” Arabo said.
Arabo was the AFPD’s Chief Operating Officer in 2008. He left California to join the organization, and in 2010 was named its president and CEO. The AFPD has 4,000 members spread across Michigan, Ohio and surrounding states including business owners in the supermarket, convenience store, gas station, wholesale, distributing and manufacturing industry.
The AFPD is a leader in government and industry relations, and closely monitors state and federal legislation that will affect its members. Proposed legislation that would have a negative impact on its members is met with strong lobbying efforts, while beneficial legislation is supported. The AFPD has a history of being solely responsible or influential in getting legislation signed into law.
It was started in 1910 by a small group of local butcher shop owners who would meet every month to discuss concerns they had about their businesses.
At the time the group was called the Detroit Retail Meat Merchants Association, and in 1913 the DRMMA and the Detroit Retail Grocers Association started lobbying on behalf of their members.
In 1916 the DRMMA started collecting dues, and held its first convention. In 1946 the DRMMA and the Detroit Retail Grocers Association merged and became the Associated Food Merchants of Greater Detroit.
|Ed Deeb, the first Arab American president and CEO of the AFPD, stands behind former Michigan Governor William Grawn Milliken and additional representatives from the AFPD as Milliken signs a proclamation declaring ""Independent Grocers Week."|
One of the most recent changes the AFPD is responsible for making possible is a joint private and public initiative funded by its members that changed the distribution of food stamps. The initiative was a $180,000 investment by the AFPD and its members. It changes the distribution of food stamps through the 23rd day of each month, rather than the first 10 days. It allows consumers to purchase food including fresh produce throughout the month, and keeps businesses steady.
“The food stamp change for the state of Michigan, that was completely us,” said Arabo. The AFPD also helped negotiate and pass into law Public Act-166 (SB 331), a tax reduction for all Michigan liquor retailers-totaling $14 million. For the first time in 38 years, thanks in large part to the AFPD, retail stores will pay the same amount as bars and restaurants for each bottle of liquor they purchase from the state. Every bottle will cost 1.85 percent less for every liquor retailer beginning Oct. 1. “This levels the playing field for restaurants and bars,” said Arabo.
The AFPD also advocated for the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax. Governor Rick Snyder repealed the MBT and replaced it with a more business friendly tax that most AFPD members are not required to pay.
|Photos of the AFPD's past chairmen. Plaques featuring the same photos are displayed on a wall at the AFPD's office in West Bloomfield. The diversity of the AFPD's members reflects its past and present leaders who come from different backgrounds. Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about the AFPD is that its members and leaders are primarily Middle Eastern Americans, and are small business owners. AFPD members include large grocery chains such as Meijer and Spartan Foods who joined the group because of its power and influence. To date the AFPD has not had an Arab American chairman, while African Americans have served as past chairmen.|
Members benefit even more out of their memberships from taking advantage of the AFPD's money saving programs. “The more you get involved, the more you learn about the programs, and you see your money come back,” Arabo said.
He says members can save up to 10 to 20 thousand dollars a year off one membership when they take advantage of all the programs.
“If you have a store or station and you are not a part of our organization you’re really losing out,” said Arabo. Members can also save as much as 10 to 20 times their dues. The AFPD saves businesses money so they can compete better with large corporations. One of its strategies is rallying up its members in large numbers to lobby for change together, as oppose to one single business owner or a few.
“We’re here to make sure members are able to survive against big chains…we try to bridge the divide between the two. If one store tries to talk to a company on getting a pricing deal on a product, they’re not going to get as good an outcome as a large number of business owners would,” Arabo said. “What we try to do is get them better pricing.”
AFPD is widely known for its philanthropic efforts. In 2011 it managed to distribute 5,100 turkeys to needy families in Ohio and Michigan. Its turkey drive is one of the largest in the region. Since 1980 the AFPD has donated more than 55,000 turkeys in Michigan and Ohio, totally about 605,000 meals. This year it gave away $56,000 worth of scholarships to 38 students at its annual scholarship ceremony. “People see the good we’re trying to do in the community,” said Arabo.
|AFPD President and CEO Audey Arabo says he can see his father who owned a supermarket in California, in a lot of the members the AFPD represents. "I left my legal career to protect guys like my father...I see the long hours they put in. I see them wanting to give their kids a better life, and I want to be a part of making that a reality," he said.|
One thing the AFPD won't stand for is cheating the system. If one of its members sought help after getting caught with food stamp fraud, the AFPD would automatically revoke their membership. The AFPD acts as a watchdog to assure all its members follow government rules and regulations. “When it comes to food stamp fraud we’re not even going to defend them because that’s our name and credibility,” said Arabo.
The AFPD is also willing to help people who’re not its members.
When a gas station clerk in Detroit shot and killed a customer, people protested outside the station demanding the station close its doors for good. The station's owner eventually became a member. “We thought if they can manage to get this station closed down they can do it to others,” Arabo said.
When Whole Foods Market received a large tax cut for its location expected to open in Detroit, the AFPD spoke up raising concern that Middle Eastern Americans who have owned supermarkets in the city for decades should have been first in line to receive the tax break.
If it wasn’t for the AFPD, none of these stores or gas stations would have a voice whatsoever,” Arabo said.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the AFPD is that its members are primarily all Chaldean or Arab American, and own small businesses. AFPD members include big names in the retail industry such as Spartan Stores and Meijer. Spartan Stores is one of the nation's largest grocery suppliers and retailers. “We are one industry, that’s what we really are,” said Arabo.
The diversity of its members can be seen in the faces of its past leaders which include people from different cultural backgrounds. While the AFPD has had African American chairmen, it still has not had an Arab American chairman and is hoping to get more involved.
Ed Deeb, a Lebanese American was the first Arab American president and CEO of the AFPD.
“We’ve had more African American chairmen then we have had Arab American chairmen, that lets people know where we stand on a diversity standpoint,” Arabo said.
|Past presidents of the AFPD above.|