The supermarket they frequented on Route 9 in Warrensburg two decades ago carried the Grand Union banner, a name due to return in early 2022 following interim years as a Tops Friendly Market, as a GU Family Market (a Grand Union affiliate), and, most recently, as a Tops market once more.
The latest change owes to last week’s decision by the Federal Trade Commission to allow the merger of suburban Buffalo-based Tops and Schenectady-based Price Chopper, creating a hefty, 300-store supermarket chain stretching across New York into New England and Pennsylvania. Competitive concerns, though, led the FTC to require that a dozen Tops stores be sold off to avoid leaving shoppers with too few options.
In Warrensburg, where Tops and Price Chopper have stores less than two miles apart off Northway Exit 23, a one-owner marketplace could have resulted. So the Tops store will become a Grand Union again after the FTC endorsed C&S Wholesale Grocers as purchaser of the divested stores.
C&S, headquartered in New Hampshire, is a leading U.S. supplier to independent supermarkets. It came to own the Grand Union name by stepping in during 2001 bankruptcy proceedings to buy up nearly 200 Grand Union stores to keep them operating until they could be sold off in chunks to other supermarket chains.
That’s how Tops came to be in Warrensburg. But when it decided to refocus on western New York in 2005, Tops sold many of the stores back to C&S. They rejoined the Tops fold 10 years ago, and now will boomerang back to C&S.
C&S says it’s all part of a new strategy that includes the summer hiring of a former executive from New England’s Stop & Shop supermarkets and acquisition of a dozen grocery stores in the upper Midwest with the purchase of a Wisconsin wholesaler.
In the trade press, C&S called the moves “critical” to expanding its retailing and franchising. (C&S also owns the Piggly Wiggly supermarket banner, which it licenses to independent grocers.)
A C&S spokeswoman did not answer emails this week about the new strategy.
One longtime supermarket observer, though, suggested C&S was acting as it has in the past, as a placeholder for a future operator.
“All grocery wholesalers end up with retail stores from time to time as a result of some stores [they supply] failing,” said David Livingston, who was managing partner at DJL Research in Milwaukee for nearly 30 years and worked in market research for supermarkets before that. “C&S never has any intention of operating retail stores for long, but finds buyers that hopefully will retain them as a wholesaler.”
The FTC approval bars C&S from selling any acquired store for three years without prior authorization. And for seven years after that, C&S can’t sell an acquired store to a buyer already operating in the same county without the FTC’s OK.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]