C-Town Convenience Store

Tops Markets, LLC has announced it will divest its 204-store chain of convenience markets. The stores, located in New York, Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio, operate under the names Wilson Farms, Sugarcreek and Tops Xpress. Locally, the sale will include the Tops Xpress at 409 College Ave., which has been open since Dec. 1, 2000.

Though a time frame has not been established for the convenience stores’ sale, Tops intends to sell the properties as operating stores. No buyer has been established yet.

“Our intent is not to close them, but to obtain full value for all of our assets,” said Stefanie Zacowicz, Tops spokesperson, in a statement to the Ithaca Journal, “[though] we can’t say what any buyer will do.”

Wilson Farms opened in 1969 as a division of Tops. Since then, it has grown to 127 locations. In 2000, Wilson Farms acquired the Sugarcreek chain, which had 67 locations in Northern and Western New York. An additional 10 stores operate under the Tops Xpress banner.

Tops employs nearly 2,100 people through its convenience stores, including store associates, field specialists and operations support.

The divestment of its convenience store holdings is just one of many moves Tops’ Netherlands-based parent company, Ahold, is currently undertaking. Ahold, which is the world’s third-largest food retail and foodservice group, is trying to recover from an accounting scandal that occurred early last year. At that time the company unveiled an 880 million euro earnings overstatement.

On Nov. 7, Ahold announced a “Road to Recovery” plan that aims to return the company to an investment-grade profile by the end of 2005. Along with its divestment of convenience stores in the U.S., Ahold has sold stores in Chile, Paraguay, Malaysia and Indonesia and is currently selling its supermarkets in Brazil, Argentina and Spain. In October, Ahold sold its Golden Gallon fuel and convenience stores, which are located in the southeastern U.S. to Pantry Inc. for an estimated $187 million.

Overall, Ahold hopes to restructure its portfolio such that the company’s focus is shifted to core food businesses. Ahold has hired the Chicago-based investment banking firm William Blair & Company, LLC. to assist with the sale.

The Sun will report on the sale and future of Collegetown’s Tops Xpress as it is made available.

Archived article by Tony Apuzzo