The axe officially fell for employees of the Middletown Pathmark grocery store when on Tuesday they received solid news that the location would be closing.
It was only a partial surprise, as word of impending closures started circulating in August of 2010, at which time the number of stores facing the bankruptcy hatchet hovered at about eight locations. Tuesday’s announcement came with a marked substantial increase in official pending closings to 32 locations — four times the originally anticipated amount.
The grocery store chain, purchased in 2007 by the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P, headquartered in Montville) had been on the verge of bankruptcy once before, in 2000. A&P’s roster of chains not only includes its namesake and Pathmark, but The Food Emporium, Waldbaum’s, Super Fresh, Best Cellars and Food Basics.
All subsidiaries are affected by A&P’s restructuring efforts. The store closures are expected to be completed in the company's fiscal first quarter, subject to court approval.
In an official press release concerning the closings, A&P President and Chief Executive Officer Sam Martin said: "As part of our turnaround and our ongoing review of our store footprint, we have decided to close these 32 locations. While this was a very difficult decision that will unfortunately impact some of our customers, partners, communities and employees, these actions are absolutely necessary as we work to strengthen A&P's operating foundation and improve our performance. We will help our affected colleagues pursue other positions across the Company should open positions be available."
The store has not yet posted documentation or signage of the closing, so patrons were surprised upon hearing the news. For Ken Lillis and Tony Raxach, of Middletown, the timing couldn’t have been worse for they were heading inside to apply for a job. “We’ve been going here since I was a little kid,” Lillis said.
One of the negatives that affected the Middletown Pathmark store was the renovation of the Shop Rite grocery store north of Pathmark, on the corner of Route 35 and Harmony Road.
Patricia Goodlow came to Pathmark on Wednesday unaware of the pending closing, but with the intention of picking up medicine rather than the food section that dominates the store. “I only come for the pharmacy,” she said. “I switched over when it was renovated. The prices between the stores were roughly about the same.”
In the court documents outlining the closings, provided by Eric C. Andrus of the communications firm Robinson Lerer & Montgomery, the process of choosing which stores would be shuttered is explained.
“Working with their advisors, the Debtors (Pathmark officials) have devised a systematic process to identify store closure candidates," the document says. "In particular, this analysis has focused on each store’s current and projected profitability, as well as each store’s potential for rehabilitation. In order to mitigate the ongoing EBITDA (Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) and cash flow impact of these stores, the Debtors intend to close their irreversibly unprofitable stores as soon as possible.”
In other words, the fact that the Middletown Pathmark was chosen among the 32 to be closed means that the store was seen as among those least likely to pull itself out of the fiscal hole and succeed. The potential for structure/design rehabilitation was also deemed dim.
So, the bankruptcy document said, "on or around April 15," those 32 stores identified beyond hope (including Middletown's) will shut their doors.
The store's site is zoned B-3, which means the site on which it sits allows only commercial uses. Because of the immediacy of the action, as the landlord and the employess all found out the same news on Tuesday, the site is not yet up for sale and/or lease and there are no potential suitors.
Store manager Mike Burdge and several employees declined to speak directly to Middletown Patch regarding the events, but two employees (who asked to remain anonymous) expressed hopes that the parent company might find openings in other locations for Pathmark’s current employees. Neither was surprised by the announcement; but both worried for their well-being in the current negative job market climate.
The location, a fixture of Middletown for over thirty years, leaves a strip mall without its anchor-store, a landlord in a legally-binding limbo, and a staff now trying to divine an unanticipated “plan B.”
Stay with Middletown Patch for updates and a detailed explanation of what the court documents mean for the parties directly affected by these events.