Tops in Olean

A shopper leaves the Olean Tops grocery store on Monday. Tops officials announced the chain would merge with Price Chopper, another grocery chain based in Upstate New York.

WILLIAMSVILLE — Eastern and Western New York grocery store chains will merge this year, company officials announced Monday.

Price Chopper/Market 32 and Tops Markets announced the stores will be merged and nearly double their collective footprint in the Northeast. The stores will retain their branding, officials said, with Tops operations continuing out of the Williamsville headquarters. The main office for the entire company will be in Schenectady, where Price Chopper is headquartered.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, and the transaction is subject to regulatory approval. The closing date was also not disclosed.

Price Chopper operates 131 locations among its brands with 18,000 employees across the Northeast. Tops Markets operates 162 grocery stores in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, employing 14,000 workers.

Scott Grimmett, Price Chopper/Market 32’s president and CEO, will be CEO of and serve on the board of directors of the new parent company, which will oversee the operations of nearly 300 Price Chopper, Market 32, Market Bistro and Tops Markets stores, which will collectively employ more than 30,000 workers.

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

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

“This merger marks a major step forward and collectively elevates our ability to compete on every level,” Grimmett said. “It leverages increased value for our customers; advances shared opportunities for innovation; fortifies the depth of our workforce, community and trade partnerships; and ultimately accelerates our capacity to deliver a distinctively modern and convenient shopping experience.

Given the vital role that supermarkets and their employees play in communities, particularly this past year, Grimmett said he was excited to lead the parent company of the two grocery retailers.

Curci said the new partners “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.”

Tops looks forward to “working closely with the Price Chopper/Market 32 team and together becoming an even stronger competitor with more scale, as we continue serving our customers and communities,” he said.

The move comes about two years after Tops exited bankruptcy protection.

In February 2018, Tops filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. A 2017 report by Reuters said the supermarket chain had a $723 million debt load.

In the Chapter 11 process, the company closed 10 locations — all in the Finger Lakes and Central New York regions. In addition, around 12,000 unionized workers agreed to a new pension agreement that reduced future benefits, as the existing plan was underfunded by $390 million.

Much of the Tops chain’s debt was accumulated after two leveraged buyouts — one by Morgan Stanley in 2007 and a second by the Tops management team in 2013.

Rapid expansion was also a factor. The company expanded from 70 stores in 2007 to 169 in 2018. In 2010, the firm purchased the Penn Traffic Co., which owned 79 stores under several brands including P&C and Quality Markets. Many of the former stores were reopened as Tops. Several former Big M stores were purchased and rebranded as Tops, as well.

Tops Markets LLC is not publicly traded, and as such is not required to file financial information on revenue, profits or debt publicly.

The chain, which opened its first grocery store in Niagara Falls in 1962, employs more than 15,000 people. Three stores are in Cattaraugus County, one is in Allegany County and two are in Pennsylvania’s McKean County.

(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at bclark@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)

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