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Tops buying back local Grand Unions (update)

July 20, 2012
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - Grand Union to Tops to Grand Union - to Tops again?

Tops Friendly Markets announced Thursday that it's acquiring 21 supermarkets currently owned by GU Markets LLC, an affiliate of C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc., in upstate New York and Vermont. Locally, the list includes both Grand Union stores in Saranac Lake and locations in AuSable Forks and Elizabethtown.

Many of these stores, including the local ones, were owned and branded by an older Grand Union company until it went under in 2001 and Tops bought the stores. In 2005, Tops sold them to C&S, a wholesaler, which ran them under the Grand Union name, which it had acquired from that company's bankruptcy.

Article Photos

The Grand Union supermarket at 156 Church St., Saranac Lake, seen today, is one of two in the village.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

And now they're on track be Tops again, or at least owned by Tops. The company's president and CEO, Frank Curci, told the Enterprise Thursday that the stores will still be operated under the Grand Union name for the foreseeable future.

"They've been run as Grand Union now for awhile," Curci said from his office in Williamsville, near Buffalo, where Tops is based. "The Tops name is not widely known in the area, even though we did operate in some of these stores. As time goes on, we'll continue to evaluate whether we change the names or keep the current banners. But for the time being, we'll keep them the way they are because they're successful stores and we don't want to do anything that will be upsetting to the customer."

Curci said Tops has no plans to close any of the 21 stores and will offer their roughly 600 workers continued employment. He said Tops likely wouldn't take over operation of the stores until the deal closes in September.

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Curci said Tops will continue to run two stores in Saranac Lake. He said the local market is strong enough to continue to support both stores, the one on Church Street and the site on Lake Flower Avenue, which employ a total of 44 people.

"Absolutely, that's our intention is to operate both those stores," Curci said. "We think they both represent a good opportunity for us. The one downtown is a little bit older, and we'll probably do some more work on that store to bring it more up to date."

Asked why Tops is reacquiring the stores, Curci explained that Tops became an independent company about four years ago. Before that, it was owned by a larger conglomerate called Ahold, which did some "asset rationalization" in 2005 and decided to sell the North Country stores to C&S Wholesale Grocers.

"Once we became independent again, we knew that these stores were very attractive, they're in good markets, stable communities with largely one-store towns where business is steady," Curci said. "We think we could do a good job of serving the customers in this area.

"C&S is our supplier here in the rest of New York state, and we've been talking to them about this for a while. Their core expertise is distribution; ours is running retail supermarkets. It made sense for both of us. These will stay supplied by C&S, and now they'll be owned and run by Tops, and we think it's a great opportunity for us and the communities. We're excited about being back in the area."

"We believe this transition makes excellent strategic sense for both organizations," Michael Newbold, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for C&S Wholesale Grocers, said in a news release. "It allows Tops to strengthen its retail network, while C&S will continue to focus on its core business of providing innovative supply and logistics solutions to its wholesale customers. C&S very much appreciates its deep partnership with Tops and looks forward to the second decade of our relationship."

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The other stores involved in the deal are located in Bolton Landing, Chestertown, Corinth, Greenville, Hancock, Hoosick Falls, North Creek, Northville, Peru, Schroon Lake, Stamford, Tannersville, West Coxsackie and Warrensburg, plus Vermont stores in Hardwick, Northfield and Rutland.

This transaction would bring Tops' total number of grocery stores to 153, the company said.



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