Saranac Lake Tops will become Grand Union … again

Twenty years ago, on April 2, the Grand Union supermarket sign at the Church Street grocery store was replaced with a Tops Markets sign. This winter, the signs will again trade places, as the company which owns the Grand Union name is reviving the brand and purchasing its old Saranac Lake building. (Enterprise file photo —Peter Crowley)

SARANAC LAKE — The Tops Markets grocery store on Church Street will become a Grand Union once again.

A merger between Tops Markets and Price Chopper/Market 32 was approved by the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorney General Letitia James on Tuesday, with the condition that the new, combined company divest from 12 stores, including the Saranac Lake one.

At the same time, C&S Wholesale Grocers is purchasing these 12 stores and reviving the long-defunct Grand Union Supermarkets brand.

“The transition will be seamless,” a spokesperson for C&S, Lauren La Bruno, wrote in an email.

She said the grand openings for all 12 new Grand Union locations are planned between mid-January and mid-February 2022. La Bruno said the new Grand Union will “offer competitive prices on a wide variety of fresh foods and an extensive assortment of brand name groceries,” plus the store’s “signature private brands,” and “localized assortments to meet their shoppers’ needs.”

La Bruno also said the company will continue to recognize the United Food and Commercial Workers District Union Local 1, the union that represents workers at Tops and Rite Aid.

UFCW Local 1 President Frank DeRiso said he’s pleased Grand Union is committed to retaining the existing union jobs and contracts.

“We believe that this merger will be positive for our membership, preserving union jobs and strengthening the company’s prospects into the foreseeable future,” DeRiso said in a statement.

Village grants, easements

This change of hands is arriving suddenly for local community and business planners, who are planning a grant-funded renovation of the Church Street building and preparing an easement request for the Saranac Lake River Walk to pass through the property.

The Franklin County Local Development Corporation has a renovation grant planned for improvements to the Tops store.

FCLDC CEO Jeremy Evans said the LDC will likely be able to carry this grant through to any new property owner or store operators, because the purpose of improving the village’s streetscape remains the same.

Currently, Tops Markets leases the property from Rochester-based Tops Portfolio LLC. It’s not yet clear if this property will change hands.

In any case, Evans said they’ll find a way to make things happen.

“We just want to make sure the project happens,” he said. “We can work through ownership changes.”

Saranac Lake Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski said ownership changes might complicate the village’s plans to get an easement through that property for the River Walk project.

She was preparing the easement request on Tuesday when the news came in. But she also said she’ll be able to adapt to any changes.


The merger between Price Chopper and Tops was announced last February. The companies sought to combine 135 stores under the Price Chopper, Market 32 and Market Bistro banners, with 169 under the Tops banner, to create around 300 stores under a new parent company, Northeast Grocery Inc. — doubling their collective footprint in the Northeast.

Prior to this merger deal, Tops Markets had been struggling financially. In 2018, Tops Markets filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which permitted the business to stay open while paying its debts. It had accumulated more than $720 million in debt to 10,000 to 25,000 creditors over the past decade.

Later that year, Tops closed its second Saranac Lake location on Lake Flower Avenue, saying it was underperforming, but kept the Church Street location, less than 2 miles away, open.

There is a Tops Market in AuSable Forks and a Price Chopper in Lake Placid. Neither of these stores are planned to be sold or closed.

There used to be a Grand Union in each of the Tri-Lakes towns. The building Tops is currently in, in Saranac Lake, used to be one of them. In 2001, after Grand Union filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy several times in the 1990s to 2000s, they all changed hands to Tops Markets.

Now, Grand Union is under new ownership, and C&S is reviving the brand. C&S declined to divulge how much the Tops location was purchased for, as it is a privately held company, La Bruno said it does not release financial data.

Why divest?

To approve this merger, the FTC and James required Northeast Grocery to divest from 12 of its stores, all Tops stores, and C&S Wholesale Grocers swooped in to purchase them. They’ll all be operated by GU Markets LLC, an affiliate of C&S which runs Grand Union Supermarkets.

James said this divestment was mandated to protect product prices and union contracts.

“It’s simple: More choices and competition at the supermarket mean better prices and more savings for consumers,” James wrote in a statement. “As many New Yorkers continue to suffer the financial impact of the COVID-19 public health crisis, the last thing that should be happening is for supermarkets to let an anti-competitive merger cut choices and raise prices.”

She wrote that her office found that the merger would have “eliminated a direct supermarket competitor; leaving a single supermarket in three cities and, at most, one to two other supermarkets in the remaining cities.”

Her office described C&S as “the largest private wholesale grocery distributor in the country.”


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