News that the New Paltz Stop & Shop is likely to be sold as a result of the merger of its parent company with the one that owns the Hannaford chain has raised a lot of concerns. The supermarket has become a part of the economic fiber of the community, both by adding choice for consumers and by providing union jobs. Longer-term residents might recall the empty husk of Ames which stood at that location before the Stop & Shop was built, and fear another derelict structure.
Michael Mazzola is representative of some of those concerns. The 75-year-old retiree has lived in New Paltz since 1969, and he’s worried that the golden age of supermarkets may be coming to a close. “We finally got a decent market,” he said, and he’d hate to lose it. “Our ShopRite is the poorest relation in that chain.” After hearing from Stop & Shop employees that they’d been advised the store was closing in three months, Mazzola did some digging on his own. He confirmed that Royal Ahold NV, a Dutch corporation, and the Belgian Delhaize Group, which own the Stop & Shop and Hannaford stores, are indeed in the process of merging. “I love that these foreigners can come in here and close down the only really great market in the area.”
Mazzola said he’s reached out to several elected officials and newspapers about his concerns. That would come as no surprise to New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez, who said he was first contacted “by someone afraid they were going to lose their job.” There’s been a slew of emails since, from employees, customers of the store, and people who concerned about the economic impact should the supermarket simply be closed.
Bettez, the state’s first Working Families Party town supervisor, was able only to get limited information about the highly secretive process of negotiating with the Federal Trade Commission. What he found out came through the offices of the Kempner Group, the corporate landlord for the entire plaza Stop & Shop anchors. From that conversation, he was left with the understanding that the lease would definitely be sold to another supermarket chain, rather than the store being abandoned. “The FTC decides,” he said, but it’s clear to him that, “Hannaford can’t just open up there,” because it’s so close to the Modena and Highland locations.
That lack of local control is part of what frustrates Mazzola. “Us little guys, we don’t count no more,” he said. “Makes you rethink everything that’s been going on. Pointing to the fact that it’s two European corporations merging, he said he’s reconsidering his past support for such political candidates as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. “All the jobs are going overseas,” he said.
Congressman Chris Gibson was one of the elected officials Mazzola contacted, and the only one to respond to him by press time. Gibson staffer Nick Czajka said, “We have received about a dozen constituent emails, phone calls, and letters on this issue,” and provided a copy of a letter the congressman sent to the federal trade commissioners. New Paltz is one of three Stop & Shop stores in the 19th congressional district in similar straits.
In that letter, Gibson wrote, “I respectfully ask that you work with the companies, employees, unions, and communities impacted . . . in order to minimize any impact on local communities and economies. Specifically, I ask that, as the companies pursue credible, willing, and able buyer(s) for these stores, any such agreement takes into consideration and recognizes union membership, length of service, and net area employment in order to ensure a smooth transition and minimize any detrimental effects of the merger.”
“I understand it’s not a done deal,” said Bettez, but that it hinges on the number of Hannaford stores in the area, and how many might be considered too many.
“I’ll buy that,” said Mazzola. “The FTC doesn’t want them to have too many stores in one area, a monopoly.” Watching the various markets that have tried to serve his needs over the past half-century, however, he’s skeptical he will ever see the quality he believes Stop & Shop has offered since it opened here.
While the process is quite secretive — even Gibson acknowledged that there’s a lot FTC commissioners simply won’t tell him — Bettez is confident in his understanding that there will be a supermarket operating at that location once the metaphorical dust settles. “I asked if I should contact anyone, but that’s not a process for me to get involved in,” the supervisor said. Like everyone else in New Paltz, for now he’s going to have to sit tight and hope for the best.