Failed grocer warns of unpaid bills

Posted: Sunday, February 04, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Failed grocery store chain Alaska Marketplace has warned vendors not to expect payment on outstanding invoices. At least not in full, or any time soon.

Robert E. Hoyt, chairman of Alaska Marketplace's parent company, broke the news in a letter Jan. 25 sent to an unknown number of creditors.

''We are painfully aware that the losses incurred by Alaska Marketplace have left numerous trade creditors and property lessors unpaid. We would be remiss if we did not advise you that, unfortunately, this is not a pretty situation, and it is very unlikely that trade creditors will be paid the full amounts outstanding,'' Hoyt wrote. He didn't specify how much debt the company has accumulated.

Several Alaska distributors of dairy products, beverages, meat and other grocery items received the letter. Some said they were disappointed but not too surprised.

Tim Weeks, owner of Paragon Distributing, which handled juices and other beverages, stopped getting paid last summer and is owed several thousand dollars, he said.

''They owe me a little over $5,000. We hoped we'd get our money out of them,'' said Monty Hubble, who ran a small trucking company, delivering food to Alaska Marketplace. Hubble, who now works as a pavement contractor, closed his trucking business after Alaska Marketplace began shuttering its six stores in Anchorage, Eagle River, Wasilla and Fairbanks last fall. Three stores closed in September and three in December, laying off more than 350 workers.

''You kind of hope someone is going to come through and pay you,'' said Hubble.

Weeks called Alaska Marketplace this week to inquire about the money owed him and spoke briefly to Pat Penaranda, who works in the accounting office.

''I just asked her if we're going to get paid. She said, 'Read your letter,' and she hung up. She said she didn't have time for this,'' Weeks said. Penaranda also hung up on a reporter seeking comment. Alaska Marketplace's Anchorage attorney, Richard Huffman, said ''the letter speaks for itself'' and would not elaborate.

Hoyt, who did not return phone messages, said Alaska Marketplace hopes to eventually repay its creditors if the Seattle-based company, also known as Northwest Retail Ventures, gets permission from the Alaska attorney general to sell two properties, in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Under an agreement with the state, the stores must be sold to other grocers, but assistant attorney general Ed Sniffen said he would reconsider that and allow non-grocery store buyers.

In his letter, Hoyt said he's ''quite confident'' that no other viable grocery operators are interested in buying the stores.

Alaska Marketplace grew out of an antitrust agreement between Safeway and the Alaska attorney general's office. Safeway had announced in 1998 it was buying rival Carrs Quality Centers for $330 million. The agreement required Safeway to sell seven stores to other grocery retailers. Alaska Marketplace took over six.

Alaska Marketplace's main owner was Associated Grocers, a Seattle food wholesaler. Bristol Bay Native Corp., an Alaska Native company, owned 34 percent.

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