Alaska Marketplace stores may close

Posted: Thursday, December 14, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Several Alaska Marketplace workers notified their union Wednesday that the small chain plans to close its last two remaining stores in Anchorage by the end of the year.

Alaska Marketplace managers would not comment on the possible closure of the stores and referred questions to the grocer's lawyer, Richard Huffman.

Huffman told the Anchorage Daily News Alaska Marketplace managers planned to meet with workers at the two stores to discuss the grocer's ''problems.'' The stores employ 108 workers.

If the stores close it would mean the end of the grocery chain created 14 months ago in response to competitive concerns when California-based Safeway bought out Carr Gottstein Foods Co., which had been the state's largest grocery.

Wally Stuart, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1496, took calls from employees Wednesday, but said he hadn't confirmed the closures with Alaska Marketplace management.

''We have been hearing the rumors for some time,'' he said. ''Everybody knew it was coming.''

In late summer, Alaska Marketplace closed three of its six stores and later announced the closure at year-end of a fourth store in downtown Fairbanks.

Moira Paddock, the grocer's charismatic general manager, resigned in September, further casting doubt on the future of Alaska Marketplace.

In approving Safeway's $330 million takeover of Carrs last year, the state ordered Safeway to shed seven stores to weaken its grip on the grocery market and create a viable competitor.

Alaska Marketplace was supposed to be that competitor.

The newly formed grocer opened three stores in Anchorage, and one each in Eagle River, Wasilla and Fairbanks. The seventh store that Safeway was required to sell -- located in Anchorage's University Center mall -- was later bought by Natural Pantry, an Anchorage natural foods store.

The chain was owned by Bristol Bay Native Corp., which owns a 34 percent stake in the grocer. The other key owner is Associated Grocers, a Seattle-based grocers' co-op and wholesaler.

''I don't think the stores ever had the financial support needed to make them successful,'' Stuart said. ''The state should have recognized that.''

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