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Remember the Why

In difficult times, it’s important to remind ourselves of all the good that grocers do
Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer
Tops, Buffalo
Progressive Grocer Editor-in-Chief Gina Acosta met with Tops team members during a recent super-market tour in upstate New York. (Image credit: Tops LinkedIn)


The grocery industry has had a turbulent few months.

In March, the Federal Trade Commission published a report attributing high grocery prices to retailer and consumer goods companies’ profits during the pandemic. Prolonged food inflation is angering consumers, and they’re being cautious with their spending. 

In April, Dom’s Kitchen & Market, an exquisite grocery format in Chicago, abruptly shut down. So did its sister brand, Foxtrot Market. So did 116-year-old New Jersey institution Sickles Market.

That same month, Walmart proceeded to shock the industry some more by shuttering its retail health business, citing “lack of profitability.” Walmart will close all 51 of its doctor-staffed health clinics (and telehealth services) just one month after the company had said that it hoped to expand its footprint of clinics to 70 by the end of this year. 

Despite the crises du jour in the industry, though, there’s always a silver lining (or two), and I was reminded of that on a recent visit to some excellent supermarket operators in upstate New York. Tops Friendly Markets and Price Chopper/Market 32 – the banners operated by Northeast Grocery Inc. and profiled in our May print issue – are a reminder of why so many of you are in this business in the first place: to nourish people and communities. Tops in particular has turned tragedy into triumph, as this month marks the two-year anniversary of a horrible day for the retailer and the U.S. grocery industry.

On May 14, 2022, a gunman entered the Tops store at Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, N.Y., and shot 13 people, 10 of them fatally. The racially motivated killings shook the nation and the industry. 

Since that awful day, the company has done so many things to nourish the neighborhood and lift a community out of a fog of grief and fear, from donating food, to building memorials at the store, to providing transportation for shoppers to other stores while the Tops on Jefferson Avenue was being remodeled from top to bottom.

But the most important consequence of that terrible tragedy can be deeply felt when one walks into the store. There’s a memorial “water wall” at the front end, featuring a poem from Buffalo poet laureate Jillian Hanesworth. Some of the employees who were at the store at the time of the shooting were there on the day in March when I visited. They had smiles on their faces, happily greeting customers and talking about how important it was for the store to reopen. They spoke openly about how proud they are to work for a company that didn’t abandon a community, but instead doubled down and opened an even better store than what was there before.

The newly remodeled store features enhanced and expanded foodservice and produce departments, and beautiful lighting. It also now features an increased security presence, an updated camera and alarm system, and more emergency exits. Employees wear special lanyards with buttons that, when pressed, immediately send an alert to the local police department to respond to that location.

No matter how much disruption happens in the industry, grocers should always remember and celebrate the why: Nourishing people and communities remains a powerful guiding light, illuminating the way to overcome any kind of turmoil. 

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