Press-Republican

July 3, 2013

Tops unveils rebranded stores in North Country

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

AUSABLE FORKS — On Tops once more.

Tops Friendly Markets officially unveiled 12 rebranded stores Tuesday. The stores are among 21 former Grand Union stores acquired by Tops last July, including six in the tri-county region.

“We’re just really excited to be here,” said Ray Ruszczak, district manager for 16 of the stores, including the one in AuSable Forks, where he took part in a grand reopening celebration Tuesday.

The other five local sites are two stores in Saranac Lake and one each in Peru, Elizabethtown and Schroon Lake.

IMPRESSED

After the event, Town Historian Sharron Hewston said the AuSable Forks grocery store is like breath of fresh air for the community.

She is most impressed by the inventory and prices, which she said are comparable with the large chain stores in Plattsburgh.

Although AuSable Forks is part of two towns, it really is one community.

“We need our own anchor store,” Hewston said.

TEAMWORK CITED

Carrie Locatelli, the new manager in AuSable Forks, came on board three months ago.

“Our store here has officially transitioned to Tops Friendly Markets,” she said.

Locatelli said her team members did a great job as renovations were under way and have helped her learn the ropes in her first stint as a store manager.

She thanked customers for their loyalty during the process.

“We’re grateful for your patience and support during this transition,” Locatelli said.

Renovations include a new floor and vibrant artwork to show the different sections of the store.

REVITALIZATION EFFORTS

The supermarket serves residents of AuSable Forks, parts of which are in the towns of Jay and Black Brook, and a number of surrounding hamlets.

Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas said small communities such as AuSable Forks have struggled since Interstate 87 opened and the nation turned to a mall-based shopping culture. 

The town has worked hard to revitalize downtown, he said. It secured a $400,000 Main Street Grant from the state that provided 50 percent funding for ground-floor renovations and 75 percent funding for upper-level apartment improvements.

“We are constantly trying to attract new businesses and encourage people to shop locally,” Douglas said.

‘VERY HAPPY’

Black Brook Town Supervisor Ricky Nolan said residents would likely have to travel about 25 miles to Plattsburgh if AuSable Forks lost its grocery store. An inconvenience to all, it would be especially difficult for the elderly or people with disabilities.

“I’m just very happy they are able to keep the store open,” he said.

PAST SALES

Tops originally acquired the six stores and 14 others from Grand Union in 2001. It sold the stores back to Grand Union’s parent company, C&S Wholesale Grocers, in 2005. 

Ruszczak said that decision came from Ahold USA, Tops parent company at the time. He said Tops CEO Frank Curci and other Tops officials were against the sale.

“He (Curci) just loved those stores,” Ruszczak said.

Tops was acquired by Morgan Stanley Private Equity late in 2007. That paved the way for Tops to reacquire the stores last year.

Ruszczak said the company really likes the towns that have just one grocery store. It gives Tops a chance to become part of the community.

DONATIONS

Kathleen Allen, manager of community relations for Tops Friendly Markets, said the company prides itself on its community involvement. She said Locatelli and her team did a great job in identifying some worthy organizations for their first donations.

The AuSable Forks Fire Department, JCEO’s Black Brook Food Pantry and Adirondack Community Action Program all received $500 checks at the end of the event.

Similar events were held Tuesday at all 12 Tops locations.

Email Dan Heath:dheath@pressrepublican.com