Shopper’s Food is leaving 13 locations. Here’s what is happening next. – The Washington Post

Restaurant News

After nearly a year of uncertainty, Shoppers Food & Pharmacy’s parent company announced this month that it is selling 13 stores to other grocery chains and shuttering four locations in the Washington region.

Employees and local officials protested that decision on Tuesday, demanding new jobs for laid-off workers and new shopping options for residents as United Natural Foods Inc. — which bought Shoppers last year — considers plans for the chain’s remaining 26 locations.

“When you suffer, Prince George’s County suffers,” said Prince George’s County Council member Calvin Hawkins (D-At Large) at a rally Tuesday with union workers and politicians in front of the Shoppers in Landover. “It’s time to stop this foolishness.”

State Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles County) said he planned to work with leaders at United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents the Shoppers workers, to introduce legislation in January that would give more protections to workers.

Currently, there are state recommendations that large companies provide 90 days notice before closing and offer employees retraining. But those are not legal requirements.

Local 400 spokesman Jonathan Williams said the union learned about the most recent round of closures minutes before they were publicly announced and “after we had been asking [company officials]for a meeting for almost a year.”

Williams said the union has been told that the Shoppers in Landover could close as early as Thursday — a decision that couldleave its 72 employees without work heading into the holidays.

Signs posted in the windows Tuesday read: “Store closing,” “Everything on sale!” “Nothing held back!”

Inside, many of the shelves were bare.

[Shoppers Food was sold. What will happen to its stores in Maryland and Virginia?]

UNFI, a major supplier for Whole Foods Market, is committed to reducing its retail footprint, chief executive Steven Spinner said in a statement this month announcing the sale of the 13 stores.

North Carolina-based grocer Compare Foods will take over the Shoppers location in Landover, in addition to those in Coral Hills and Colmar Manor in Prince George’s County and two locations in Baltimore, said general manager Leo Pena.

He said Compare Foods will receive the keys to the stores around Jan. 10, and the stores will open 30 to 45 days after that.

Pena said Compare Foods will offer “the same services as Shoppers, and more,” including free delivery. He said the store is considering renegotiating a contract with the union that serves Shoppers’ employees.

Lidl, a German grocery powerhouse that is rapidly expanding in the United States, plans to acquire six Shoppers locations, said spokesman William Harwood: in the Maryland localities of Annapolis, Brooklyn Park, Oxon Hill, Takoma Park and Wheaton; and in Burke, Va.

“We will be making significant investments in the redevelopment of these sites, and will have more to share in terms of the grand opening timeliness and hiring events at the end of next year,” Harwood said in a statement.

The four Shoppers locations that are closing by the end of January are in Baltimore and Severn in Maryland, andAlexandria and Manassas in Northern Virginia. This summer, the chain’s outlet in Chillum, Md., shut its doors;a store in Falls Church, Va., closed Sept. 1.

Kevin Freeman, a butcher who has worked at Shoppers for 32 years, said the spirits of employees at the New Carrollton location where he now works are low, even though the fate of that location is unknown. “People don’t know where they are going to live — they are already living paycheck to paycheck.”

In Prince George’s County, which had 12 Shoppers locations, officials say they have been frustrated by the lack of information they have received from UNFI.

About 15 percent of the suburb is classified by the U.S. Agriculture Department as a “food desert,” and residents — especially in poorer communities inside the Beltway — have long complained about a dearth of healthy grocery options.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), who has made bringing healthy foods to the county a top priority, said in a statement that she has been working to make sure all of the locations currently operating in Prince George’s are purchased by other grocers.

“We will be laser-focused on the high-quality grocers and dining options our citizens deserve,” she said. “We also understand the need for stability and job security for the hundreds of workers and their families who are impacted by these closures, especially during the holiday season.”

Williams, the union spokesman, said that according to the terms of the union’s contract, if a company buys more than 10 percent of the stores and opens within 30 days, then they also have to also buy the union contract. But he said he has little confidence that UNFI will adhere to that contract.

A spokesman for UNFI did not respond to requests for comment about the union contract.

Officials said there will be a resource fair Jan. 11 for affected workers where they will be able to receive hardship funds and help applying for other jobs.

Read more:

Shoppers Food was sold. What will happen to its stores in Maryland and Virginia?

Politics, trash and fiscal realities collide in Prince George’s County

Can a nonprofit grocer succeed in a Prince George’s city that Safeway left?

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