Twelve weeks after taking over the New Paltz Stop and Shop, Tops Friendly Markets held an official “Grand Reopening” and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the refurbished supermarket at 271 Main Street last Wednesday, November 16. Tops executives pledged their commitment to working closely with the community as the store’s staff, local dignitaries and representatives of not-for profit organizations looked on. “Our mission is to eradicate hunger and to improve the quality of life for children,” said Kathleen Allen, senior manager for community relations, as she handed out donations of $500 store gift cards to the SUNY New Paltz Career Resource Center, the New Paltz Police Benevolent Association, Family of New Paltz, the New Paltz Central School District and St. Joseph’s Food Pantry.
Noting that residents take a strong interest in their grocery shopping choices, with which a local supermarket is best being “one of the biggest debates on Facebook,” New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez said that his initial concerns about new ownership had been allayed by the improvements in the former Stop and Shop facility since the changeover. “I was worried that a multinational conglomerate would replace the multinational conglomerate that we had before,” he joked. Based in Williamsville, a Buffalo suburb, the Tops corporation operates 172 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Massachusetts. “I think they care about the towns that they’re in. I think they’re going to be a good local partner,” Bettez added.
“We’ll be a great corporate citizen,” promised Tops president and chief operating officer John Persons. “We take pride in hiring locally. All the associates who were here before are still here.” He praised New Paltz store manager Joe Dunkerley and his team, saying that they had been “true professionals through all this transition.” Dunkerley acknowledged the “phenomenal support” that he had received from the new corporate owners and passed the compliment along to his staff, saying, “My associates make me look good.”
According to Dunkerley, the New Paltz store did not lay off any former Stop and Shop employees, and in fact increased its staff slightly to around 150, maintaining wages and benefits at or above previous levels. “Everybody’s in the job they were in. We did have some part-time become full-time.” He said that the store hires “a lot of college students,” at least one of whom has gone on to the managerial level. “We promote from within.”
The store’s physical plant got a sprucing-up, including new refrigeration and display cases, new décor and tiling. Although some former Stop and Shop patrons grumbled at first about the abrupt turnover back in August, Tops representatives repeatedly emphasized that they had paid careful attention to the wishes expressed by the community for a broader grocery selection. “We took a couple of months to listen to your feedback, put new product on the shelves, do some renovation,” said Persons.
One such enhancement that was mentioned repeatedly was an expansion of the natural and organic products available, in response to requests from patrons. There is a double aisle devoted exclusively to products normally found in health food stores, including a large selection of gluten-free and vegan items and a row of dispensers for grains, beans, nuts and dried fruits in bulk. “We have expanded organics in every section,” noted Dunkerley. “Almost every department was impacted.” The manager said that he was also advocating for the sourcing of more fresh produce and free-range meats from local farms.
Delicatessen manager Russell Dickson was enthusiastic about some of the changes in his department, notably a new pizza counter where freshly made pies could be purchased whole or by the slice. “The New Paltz students are going to love it,” he said. The selection of takeaway meals had also expanded, he said, including a full line of Panera soups and InnovAsian Chinese food, as well as a greater variety of sandwiches, wraps and rollups. “I like their sandwich bread better than the bread we used to use,” said Dickson. “It’s baked on the premises.” Packaged bakery products now include the Ace Bakery line of artisan breads, which uses all non-GMO ingredients.
Dunkerley encouraged any customers who don’t see their favorite products on the shelves to let him know, saying that the store’s new owners had proven “very willing to accommodate” local preferences. On opening day at least, the bright, clean and well-stocked market seemed to be making a positive impression on New Paltz shoppers. “It’s a nice store,” observed one patron to her companion as they pushed their carts through the wide aisles where vendors were handing out free product samples. “Oh, it’s beautiful,” her friend replied.
For more information about Tops Friendly Markets, visit the company’s website at www.topsmarkets.com.