Tops executives to buy majority stake in grocery chain

By KERRY FELTNER - 11/14/2013 4:27:51 PM

Tops Friendly Markets Inc. announced Thursday it is getting a new group of owners—including six high-ranking company executives—marking the sixth change of ownership in the company’s last 30 years.

The supermarket chain, with headquarters in Amherst, Erie County will be run by six top executives including President Frank Curci. Others on the management team are Kevin Darrington, chief operating officer; Richard Mills, chief financial officer; John Person, senior vice president for operations; Jack Barrett, senior vice president for human resources; and Lynne Burgess, s senior vice president and general counsel.

The six owners have entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Morgan Stanley Private Equity’s stake in the business. The Wall Street firm had backed management’s 2007 acquisition of the company, and now is able to cash out its stake.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The transaction is expected to close by year’s end.

Morgan Stanley owns a 66 percent stake in stock, while Graycliff Partners L.P., a New York City investment firm that once was part of HSBC Bank, owns less than 19 percent. Curci owns a 2.7 percent stake in the business, while Darrington owns 1.4 percent. All other Tops directors or executives own 1 percent or less of the company’s stock.

The grocery store chain will run as it has in the past.

“It’s business as usual for Tops,” said Katie McKenna, a Tops spokeswoman, in a statement. “We believe this is a very positive development for Tops.”

The company employs 14,000 people in 155 markets nationally with 4,000 workers in Western New York.

The company reported a loss of $9.5 million during the first half of this year, compared with a $10 million profit during the same period last year.

Operating profits dropped by 37 percent, stemming from the interest payments of the company’s debt.

A 6 percent growth in sales—$1.34 billion up from $1.27 billion ending in mid-July—was attributed to its acquisition of 21 Grand Union Supermarket Inc. supermarkets in October 2012.

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