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November 9, 2010

 

FTC reviewing comments on P&C sell order

Tops awaits final decision whether it must sell supermarket in Riverside Plaza

FTCJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
David Robinson of Homer loads groceries into his vehicle Monday at Riverside Plaza. A final decision by the Federal Trade Commission to force Tops to sell the store is still pending.

By SCOTT CONROE
Staff Reporter
sconroe@cortlandstandard.net

The P&C supermarket at Riverside Plaza in Cortland remains open and owned by the Tops supermarket chain while the Federal Trade Commission reviews over 300 public comments on its Aug. 4 order that Tops sell that store and six others.
The FTC ordered the sale of stores in Cortland, Ithaca, Bath, Lockport and Sayre, Pa., due to concerns they hurt competition among supermarkets in those communities.
Williamsville-based Tops purchased the stores from Penn Traffic, the bankrupt owner of P&C markets, along with 72 others.
The FTC will review and respond to comments before it issues a final consent order, meaning Tops would need to sell or close the store.
If such an order is issued, Tops will have 90 days to comply with it.
“There are a lot of comments from the public, and the FTC has to respond to each one,” FTC spokesman Mitchell Katz said Monday. “That may be what’s taking some time. And the FTC will consider those comments.”
He would not provide a date for when the FTC might reach its decision.
The original order said Tops had 90 days to sell the seven stores, although it allowed for a public comment period. An FTC analysis of the agreement, issued on Aug. 11, said during the bankruptcy proceedings where Tops purchased Penn Traffic’s stores, the FTC reserved the right to determine afterward if Tops’ ownership created an anticompetitive situation.
The FTC also ordered the sale of two former P&C supermarkets purchased by Tops in Ithaca, among the seven. Those stores also continue to operate as P&C stores.
Tops officials did not respond to requests for comment. They said two weeks ago that the store remains open until the FTC says otherwise.
Dave Muraco, owner of Empire Management in DeWitt — Riverside Plaza’s owner — referred questions to Tops.
In August, when the FTC announced its order to sell the supermarket, Muraco said Tops would likely seek a new owner, since the chain was liable for $2 million in rent and its lease on the building would not end until 2020.
Muraco also said at the time that he had a potential buyer for the store, and that Tops and the FTC needed to work out their situation.
Tops acquired 79 Penn Traffic stores in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and New Hampshire for about $85 million through bankruptcy proceedings in February. Two of them were in Cortland; Tops closed the P&C at Groton Avenue Plaza.
The FTC collected 313 public comments between Aug. 5 and Sept. 24 about the stores it had ordered sold, according to its website.
Most of the comments are copies of a form letter to the FTC, saying the closing of the stores would result in 450 “hard-working men and women being on the street and in the unemployment line.” The letters says Tops “did the right thing” by purchasing the stores, and the decision to force the stores’ sale “hurts the consumer, the company and the employees.”
The letter’s origin was not apparent.
One letter, marked “mass mailing campaign,” is signed by 4,292 people. Another is from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 in Sayre.
A few comments are personal, stating the Riverside Plaza store is crucial to shoppers on the east side of Cortland and questioning why the FTC was not so concerned about competition when two P&C stores existed at the plaza and on Homer Avenue.
Cortland resident Carol Tytler, a former county legislator who now serves as city clerk, wrote that Tops “has shown a commitment to our community while other grocery stores have come and gone.” She said Tops’ operation is friendlier to senior citizens and people with lower incomes.
Another area resident, Amy Rice, said the building might not continue to house a supermarket if Tops must leave.
“Nobody said a word when there were two P&C stores in Cortland and only one Tops, prior to the arrival of Price Chopper,” she wrote.

 

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