GIANT EAGLE TO BUY 13 TOPS STORES

PITTSBURGH - Giant Eagle here is expanding its presence in northeastern Ohio with the acquisition of several Tops stores there.Of the 46 Tops locations for sale in the region, Giant Eagle said last week it would acquire 13, which it will operate as corporate stores. As part of the transaction, it also acquired one Tops that will be operated by a licensee and four that will be operated as Dave's Supermarkets

PITTSBURGH - Giant Eagle here is expanding its presence in northeastern Ohio with the acquisition of several Tops stores there.

Of the 46 Tops locations for sale in the region, Giant Eagle said last week it would acquire 13, which it will operate as corporate stores. As part of the transaction, it also acquired one Tops that will be operated by a licensee and four that will be operated as Dave's Supermarkets by a local nine-store independent who is supplied by Giant Eagle.

The terms of the acquisition, which is expected to close by mid-December, were not disclosed.

In addition, the four Dave's stores will install and operate Giant Eagle-brand pharmacies through a relationship similar to the one Giant Eagle has with its licensees.

The addition of 13 stores in the region will bolster Giant Eagle's 93-store presence in northeastern Ohio, although four of the acquired sites will replace existing locations.

"In some cases, they have a better physical plant," said Giant Eagle spokesman Rob Borella.

On the same day Giant Eagle announced its plans, Tops' supplier, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Keene, N.H., said it would close its Cleveland warehouse, effective Dec. 8, according to reports.

A spokesman for Tops said the chain was "very optimistic" that it would find buyers for the remaining 28 stores in the market by the end of the year, and that it preferred to find supermarket operators to acquire the sites to preserve jobs.

Tops parent Ahold, Amsterdam, had said in July that it would seek to sell the northeastern Ohio Tops to concentrate on its core markets in western New York and Pennsylvania. Tops is based in Buffalo, N.Y.

Giant Eagle and Tops are currently Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the Cleveland market, according to data from Metro Market Studies, Tucson, Ariz. Together they have about 50% of the grocery share there.

In Akron, Giant Eagle also enjoys the No. 1 share with 28.4% of the market, followed by Supervalu's Acme Fresh Markets banner with 25.5% and then Tops with 11.7%.

Borella said the acquisition will introduce the Giant Eagle banner into two small markets, Medina and Norwalk, Ohio.

Giant Eagle plans to close the acquired Tops stores briefly and begin reopening them in mid-December under the Giant Eagle banner, with the last set for conversion by next summer.

The independently operated store that is part of the acquisition will replace an existing Gillombardo's Giant Eagle when it reopens next summer after an extensive remodel, Borella said.