December 2, 2021

Grand Union to return

Move comes with merger of Tops, Price Chopper

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Customers enter the Tops supermarket on Tuesday afternoon. The store will be sold soon to C&S Wholesale Grocers, which will change it to a Grand Union store.

Debbie Underwood of Groton recalls shopping regularly at the Grand Union supermarket on Homer Avenue in Cortland in the years before it closed in 1990.

“It had a great reputation, a great meat department,” she said Tuesday after getting out of her car in the parking lot of the Tops supermarket at 3932 Route 281 in Cortlandville. “Tops does, too.”

Underwood and other Tops customers will soon be shopping at Grand Union again.

A merger of Tops and Price Chopper parent companies will prompt the sale of the Tops stores in Cortlandville and 11 other communities in New York and Vermont to Vermont-based C&S Wholesale Grocers, which will rebrand them as Grand Union stores.

The Grand Union store on Homer Avenue was changed to a P&C supermarket in 1990, a year after P&C parent company Penn Traffic bought a 24% stake in Grand Union and the Federal Trade Commission raised questions about competition among supermarket chains.

That same federal agency forced the sale of 12 Tops supermarkets as part of the approval of the merger of Tops and Price Chopper supermarket chains, which both operate stores on Route 281 in Cortlandville, which was announced Monday.

The sale — expected to be completed in the coming weeks — was a prerequisite for merger approval by the FTC, which pressed to help maintain supermarket competition in the affected communities.

C&S announced Tuesday that it will buy the 12 stores and convert them to Grand Union supermarkets. They are in Cortlandville, Cooperstown, Norwich, Owego, Peru, Rome, Saranac Lake, Sherrill, Warrensburg and two locations in Watertown, and Rutland, Vermont.

“With our recent announcement of the purchase of Piggly Wiggly Midwest, this is another very exciting opportunity for C&S to further expand into the retail market,” said Rick Cohen, executive chairman of C&S Wholesale Grocers. “This is an important component of our growth and future success. The Grand Union stores will showcase C&S’s already successful retail strategies and be supported by our strong wholesale supply chain and programs to deliver solid retail performance.”

A Price Chopper official said in February that both the Tops and Price Chopper stores in Cortlandville, which are two miles apart, would remain open after the merger.

Scott Leader of Cortland was not pleased to hear of the sale Tuesday after shopping at the Tops store, where he has shopped occasionally since moving to the city about 20 years ago.

“I didn’t know about it and I’m not happy about it,” Leader said. “I like Tops.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Tops and Price Chopper will be managed locally by their respective leaders and continue to be referred to by their established brand identities, but will be owned and overseen by a new parent company, Northeast Grocery Inc., the companies announced Tuesday.

Grand openings for the soon-to-be Grand Union stores that C&S is buying are planned for mid-January through mid-February. GU Markets LLC, an affiliate of C&S Wholesale Grocers, will operate the stores. C&S said it will continue to recognize the union work force at the supermarkets.

The New Jersey-based Grand Union supermarket chain, with roots dating back to 1872, was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2001 and sold 185 stores to C&S Wholesale Grocers, according to trade publication Supermarket News. The Grand Union chain was scaled down by C&S, which retained stores in New York and New England.

Once one of the largest supermarket chains in the country, the 21 remaining Grand Union stores in the Adirondack Region and parts of Vermont were sold in 2012 to Tops, which rebranded them as Tops supermarkets and the Grand Union name was discontinued.

C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. describes itself as an industry leader in supply chain solutions and wholesale grocery supply in the United States. Founded in 1918 as a supplier to independent grocery stores, C&S services customers of all sizes, supplying more than 7,700 independent supermarkets, chain stores, military bases and institutions with more than 137,000 products.