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Looking at the Tops-Price Chopper merger

Grocery stores matter a great deal, and when they make changes, people pay close attention. They are our food sources, and shifts in store locations, prices and offerings can make huge differences in people’s household budgets, health and happiness.

The merger of two of this area’s major grocery store chains, Tops and Price Chopper, could be good for local shoppers if these upstate New York companies offer better prices and selection as they share purchasing power, supply lines and other resources.

It will not be good if they close stores.

Tops did close one of its two Saranac Lake stores in 2018, amid a bankruptcy process, after reverting from foreign to New York ownership. It would be nice if it’s now done with shedding inefficiencies — but you never know with corporate decisions made far away.

If any stores close from this merger, we imagine it would be in a place with a Tops and a Price Chopper very close together. In the Tri-Lakes area, Tops operates stores in Saranac Lake and AuSable Forks, and Price Chopper operates a bigger store in Lake Placid. All of these are needed and popular. To shoppers here, they don’t seem too close to be redundant. We like to think they should be safe from closure, but again, you never know.

The companies say they plan to keep both the Tops and Price Chopper/Market 32 brands on their combined total of nearly 300 stores, managing them separately under a new parent company. The point of the merger is not to convert anyone to a new brand but to compete better with national chains — to offer better prices and selection without taking away anything customers enjoy.

That makes sense, if they can pull it off. Each of these companies has a roughly 100-year history of service to upstate New York, which is worth holding onto.

It remains uncertain what will happen with the stores’ own brands, or how they will deal with Tops workers being unionized while Price Chopper workers aren’t. But if things go as the companies say they will and no local stores close, we see no reason for local shoppers to worry about this merger.

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