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Price Chopper, Tops merging

Effects on local stores unclear

The Lake Placid Price Chopper is one of the 135 supermarkets merging with Tops Markets under a parent company. The combined number of store locations in this new company will be around 300. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

It is unclear how a planned merger between Price Chopper/Market 32 and Tops Markets will affect stores in the North Country region.

The companies announced Monday that their approximately 300 combined store locations — 135 under the Price Chopper, Market 32 and Market Bistro banners, and 169 under the Tops banner — will be owned under one yet-to-be-named parent company.

In the Tri-Lakes area, Tops operates stores in Saranac Lake and AuSable Forks, and Price Chopper operates one in Lake Placid. Asked whether any of those stores will close, both companies issued a combined statement, forwarded to the Lake Placid News from Robert Carr of Carr Marketing Communications Inc., a public relations firm based in Williamsville, saying these decisions are pending.

“There are a lot of decisions that need to be made as we bring our companies together,” the companies said. “We are working through the regulatory approval process and no decisions have been made yet about specific stores. Rest assured, the merged companies expect to continue serving their communities and customers.”

The Price Chopper/Market 32 and Tops Markets businesses will retain their main offices in Schenectady and Williamsville (near Buffalo), respectively, and will continue to be managed locally. The new parent company will be headquartered in Schenectady.

Tops Market in Saranac Lake is one of 169 merging with the Price Chopper company under a parent company. The combined number of store locations in this new company will be around 300. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

The merger transaction is expected to close in the coming months, subject to regulatory approval and customary closing conditions. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Lake Placid Price Chopper store manager Emily Schwartz said she does not know much more than what the press release already said but that she is excited for the future. She said she attended a conference call Monday morning with the company, discussing the merger.

Local reaction

Shoppers at the Saranac Lake Tops and Lake Placid Price Chopper were surprised to hear of the news Monday and shared their thoughts on the merger and the two stores in general.

Overall, most said they like and shop at both stores, but that the Saranac Lake Tops has a limited selection of merchandise they would like to see expanded. That store, built in 1965, is 11,450 square feet, compared with the 40,000-square-foot Price Chopper, built in 1999.

Shoppers who talked Monday want both to stay open, saying each store meets a different need. The Price Chopper offers more selection and lower prices, most said; the Tops offers a convenient and walkable location for Saranac Lakers.

“I shop both of them, so I’m OK with it, as long as they keep them both open,” Carol Baldwin said in the Price Chopper parking lot.

Lisa Weis, at Price Chopper, said she lives in Wilmington, and though the Tops in AuSable Forks is nearby, she comes here.

“I like Price Chopper over Tops because they have better selection,” Weis said. “So maybe that will make Tops better.”

Brooks Fraser of Lake Placid said she always shops at Price Chopper and hoped the merger does not mean many changes for the store. Asked about potential store closures, she said she hopes they do not happen.

“We’re lucky because we do have other options,” Fraser said. “But this is my preferred place to shop.”

Charles White of Brooklyn was shopping at Price Chopper after a morning of skiing at Whiteface Mountain. He said he likes shopping there when he comes to Lake Placid.

“If they closed this one that would suck,” White said.

Jan Plumadore of Saranac Lake, at Tops, said that though he does not like to see the companies merge, he thinks both are good businesses.

“It’s kind of nice to have a bit of diversity and competition,” Plumadore said. “But both are very competently run grocery stores, as far as I’ve seen.”

“I guess a lot of companies are doing it right now in this economy, so it makes sense, I guess,” Charles Jones of Lake Placid said.

Plumadore said he buys certain items, like fresh lobster, at Price Chopper.

Jared Thayer, in the Tops parking lot, said he buys his fish at Price Chopper, too.

“I think there’s a good chance we could have some improvement here,” Thayer said.

Stephanie Kilbourne, in the Tops lot, said she doesn’t do her weekly shopping there but likes the store for its convenience and Boar’s Head meats. She said that location is important to many Saranac Lakers

“A lot of people don’t like to have to drive, especially when (Lake Placid) is just loaded with tourists,” she said.

She also mentioned that residents of the DeChantal Apartments independent senior living building up the street walk there, as do college students in apartments nearby.

Plumadore agreed, “It’s the only downtown grocery store that we have that’s walking distance for most people.” He believes if the combined company assesses the needs of the area it will find this location is important.

Statements from the companies

In a press release, the upstate New York-based companies said the merger “creates a powerful alliance between the two independent grocery chains,” nearly doubling their collective footprint in the Northeast. The merger of the grocery chains is expected to better position them to compete with larger companies, according to progressivegrocer.com, which spoke with Scott Moses, managing director and head of grocery, pharmacy and restaurants at PJ Solomon, the financial adviser for Price Chopper.

“As Amazon/Whole Foods, Walmart/Sam’s, Target, Costco, BJ’s, Aldi, Dollar General, Dollar Tree/Family Dollar, Walgreen, CVS and Ahold/Hannaford continue to use their enormous size, and very low cost of capital to make extraordinary investments in their powerful, ubiquitous store and online grocery ecosystems, it is ever more critical for regional grocers to build the scale required to enable them to also invest in price, people, marketing, technology and growth (albeit far less given their relative size),” Moses told progressivegrocer.com.

In an email statement to the News, the two companies said they are continuing to hire to support their businesses.

“In any transaction like this there may be some redundancies,” the companies said. “We are committed to addressing any impacted associates respectfully, and where possible, to providing alternative employment opportunities in the merged companies’ stores. We look forward to together becoming a stronger regional employer and providing even better destinations for our customers to find the convenience, savings and friendly customer service they expect at our stores.”

Price Chopper/Market 32 President and CEO Scott Grimmett will be CEO of the new parent company and serve on its board of directors, which will oversee the operations of the nearly 300 Price Chopper, Market 32, Market Bistro and Tops Markets stores.

These stores collectively employ more than 30,000 people.

“This merger marks a major step forward and collectively elevates our ability to compete on every level,” Grimmett said in a press release.

Frank Curci, Tops Markets chairman and CEO, will serve on the board of directors of the new parent company and as a consultant to assist in the transition.

“We have long believed that this merger makes sense both strategically and based on the similar ways in which we each put customers first, go to market and treat our people,” Curci said in a press release.

John Persons, Tops Markets’ president and chief operating officer, will lead the Tops Markets business.

Blaine Bringhurst, Price Chopper/Market 32’s executive vice president of merchandising, marketing and store operations, will lead the Price Chopper/Market 32 business.

Both companies have formative roots dating back to the 1920s and have grown exponentially over the last century, building and acquiring stores across upstate New York and throughout the Northeast.

The Golub Corporation currently operates 135 supermarkets under the Price Chopper, Market 32 and Market Bistro banners in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

Tops Markets currently operates 169 supermarkets, along with five supermarkets operated by franchisees under the Tops banner, in upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania and Vermont, employing more than 14,000 associates, according to its website.

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