Grand Union (supermarket)
|Fate||Bankruptcy and purchase by C&S Wholesale Grocers (original company 2001)
Purchased and absorbed by Tops Markets (remaining stores, 2013)
|Successor(s)||Tops Friendly Markets|
|Founded||Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S. (1872 , as Jones Brothers Tea Company)|
|Founder(s)||Cyrus D. Jones|
|Defunct||July 2, 2013|
|Headquarters||Williamsville, New York, U.S.|
|Number of locations||21 (2012)|
Until 2001, the company operated mostly in the northeastern United States but at times its reach extended into the Midwest, Southeast, and the Caribbean. The company was originally founded and headquartered in Scranton, Pennsylvania then it moved to headquarters three more times, first to Brooklyn, New York then Elmwood Park, New Jersey and finally to Wayne, New Jersey, until its closure.
Grand Union started in Scranton, Pennsylvania as the Jones Brothers Tea Company in 1872. By the 1930s it was one of the largest grocery chains in the United States. The name "Grand Union" was inspired by the desire to "unite shoppers with low prices in a 'Grand Union of Value'" as described by company associate Elvin Sanders. The store's mascot was Abraham Lincoln wearing a deli apron, and most stores featured a costumed Lincoln to accomplish deeds, talk to customers, and proclaim the general splendor of the Grand Union, and to urge them to "Save the Union" when the company faced economic hardship.
In 1951, Grand Union moved to a new supermarket/headquarters combo building in East Paterson, New Jersey. That town later adopted the Elmwood Park name in the early 1970s. Although it would move its headquarters again in 1987, this time to the Willowbrook Center building in Wayne across the street from Willowbrook Mall, the Elmwood Park store would remain in business until its 2001 closure.
Starting in 1960, the company also operated "Grand Way" stores which were similar to today's super-centers as they combined a discount department store with a grocery store all under one roof. The grocery stores were later separated from the discount stores and sold to Winn-Dixie/Kwik-Chek.
Ownership by Sir James "The Red Raider" Goldsmith
British corporate raider Sir James Goldsmith acquired Grand Union in the early 1970s. Grand Union was a money loser during much of Goldsmith's time of ownership. The company, which was then a national chain, was forced to sell over most of its stores outside of the northeastern states during the early 1980s, such as its Florida, Texas, and Washington, D.C. divisions. (However, the company did retain the Big Star Markets chain operating in the Atlanta metro region up until 1993). In the 1980s it acquired many former A&P stores in northern New Jersey. In the mid 1980s, Goldsmith brought in former Target Corp. executive Floyd Hall to manage the chain. Goldsmith also had world-renowned artist Milton Glaser complete a graphical redesign of the chain, which included the "red dot" theme. Through the new management under Hall, the chain was able to make record making profits for once throughout the late 1980s. Goldsmith sold the chain to Floyd Hall and a group of investors in 1988. The chain, however, was quickly resold.
1989 acquisition by Gary Hirsch
In 1989, investment banker Gary D. Hirsch, a partner in the firm Miller Tabak Hirsch & Co. acquired a portion of the Grand Union Company with Solomon Brothers. Hirsch had been looking to assemble a grocery empire on the east coast at the time, as he had also recently acquired Penn Traffic of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, P&C Food Markets of Syracuse, NY and the Big Bear Stores Company of Columbus, OH in hostile takeovers. Hirsch assumed the position of chairman while Joseph McCaig became CEO. Floyd Hall left upon the acquisition. Under Hirsch's reign the company had been driven into serious debt and ran out of the necessary capital for store improvements and upgrades, making it difficult for them to compete with other better financed retailers. Still, gradually, Grand Union remodeled most of their stores. Some of their older, run down stores were closed and converted to other uses. Grand Union's big disadvantage was that their average store was 35,000 square feet while most supermarkets being built were over 50,000. The company did build a few larger stores as well. Financial problems plagued the company into 1995. The company then entered its first bankruptcy under Chapter 11 in 1995 and exited in 1996. After the reorganization, Hirsch resigned and sold off his stake in the company. The company continued remodeling remaining older stores.
The J. Wayne Harris era
In 1997, Grand Union brought in the well-respected former A&P and Kroger executive, J. Wayne Harris to begin a turnaround of the ailing chain. Nearly every store that had not already been remodeled went through remodeling and grand reopenings. This built even more debt on the company which entered bankruptcy again in 1998. Early in 1999, the Company emerged from bankruptcy with more than $175 million in cash to spend in the stores. The company also acquired building permits to build some larger stores to compete more effectively. Harris used the cash to finish the last remaining remodels and experiment with new store formats, such as "Hot Dot", a limited assortment store in the mold of Aldi and Save-A-Lot, "Grand Union Fresh Markets", an upscale gourmet concept, and "Mega Save", another discount format. Cash quickly dried out as a result of overspending in new stores and reformatting of existing stores. None of the new concepts worked and Harris was forced out of the company in 2000. He was then hired by JC Penney to oversee a turnaround of the Eckerd Corporation, which experienced similar results a couple of years later. Some of the construction permits began to result in the building of new stores. Others started but stopped due to lack of funding. One new store built in Fishkill never opened and in the end was sold after the exit of the market to a ShopRite owner. Harris left Grand Union with unbearable debt, crumbling sales and a desperate deal for cash with a wholesaler that forced the company back into bankruptcy in 2000. At this point, Grand Union lacked funds to even operate so their bankruptcy was converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation in December 2000. Stores continued to hang on through the year.
2001 acquisition by C&S Wholesale Grocers
C&S was one of Grand Union's largest credtiors, so they acquired the entire Grand Union chain, bringing it out of bankruptcy and immediately began working to consolidate Grand Union's operations after making a stalking horse offer. This involved exiting the New York metropolitan area market, where it had done the core of its business, altogether. Most of the larger stores and a decent amount of construction permits were sold to Ahold, who converted them into Stop & Shop stores as part of that company's continued expansion into the New York metro area. Others were bought by competing chains such as Shaw's in Connecticut and Massachusetts, Hannaford in upstate New York and Vermont, and several would be sold to Pathmark, which A&P acquired in 2007. A few stores were sold to independent grocers. Many of the smaller stores were purchased by Eckerd (later becoming Rite Aid stores). The rest that weren't sold to competing supermarket or drugstore chains were converted for other retail use or (at least in the case of the former Elmwood Park store) demolished and replaced with other buildings.
Acquisition by Tops Markets
On July 19, 2012, Tops Markets announced that it will acquire the 21 remaining Grand Union stores in the Adirondack Region and parts of Vermont. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. On May 28th, 2013 grand reopening ceremonies were held for 9 stores which had been rebannered under the Tops Friendly Markets name. The remaining 12 stores held grand reopening ceremonies on July 2, 2013 under the Tops Friendly Markets banner, effectively bringing and end to the Grand Union supermarket chain.
- Union Family Markets - Store Locator
- Grand Union by Groceria
- The Grand Union Company history (via website