Hannaford to buy Brandon Grand Union

BRANDON — Hannaford Supermarkets has announced plans to buy two Grand Union grocery stores located in Brandon and Swanton.
The Maine-based chain has reached an agreement in principle to buy the two stores and the deal is expected to be finalized in early 2010, Hannaford spokesman Michael Norton said on Monday.
The surprising move comes as Second Generation Development Inc. is ensconced in permitting hearings in Brandon to build the 53,000 square-foot Brandon Plaza a mile south of downtown that would include a 36,000-square-foot Hannaford supermarket. For months, opponents and anti-sprawl groups have been pushing for either an upgrade to the Grand Union in downtown Brandon or a new store in a downtown location instead.
According to a press release issued by Hannaford, the company would open a grocery store in the Brandon Grand Union building next year, but has every intention of moving into the new Brandon Plaza Hannaford at the corner of Nickerson Road and Route 7 in 2011 when the project is supposed to be completed.
“It’s an opportunity to serve those customers sooner,” Norton said. “We think Brandon is a great community. We’ll be there sooner with a store that can do very well.”
Norton would not disclose the sale price; he said Hannaford is buying the Grand Union business, but will continue to lease the building and the property.
Asked about the fate of those currently employed at the Grand Union, Horton indicated that their jobs are safe.
“The agreement in principle is to keep the general level of employees the same,” he said. “The current employees will have an opportunity to work for Hannaford. Once we have the final purchase agreement, it will be an opportunity to reach out and talk to those employees about their futures.”
Norton said that no changes will be made to the Grand Union building footprint or the parking lot.
The move to buy the Brandon Grand Union comes as a surprise to just about everyone, including Brandon Plaza developer Bill McCabe.
“I’m still trying to digest it,” he said on Monday. He was asked if the news took him by surprise.
“Yes, it did,” he said. “I guess it was an opportunity and Hannaford took advantage.”
McCabe didn’t agree with speculation that Hannaford’s move to buy the Grand Union was an insurance policy to secure a Brandon presence in case the permitting for the Brandon Plaza project fell through.
“Honestly, I don’t think that’s the case,” he said. “I think they, and I, feel confident that the Brandon Plaza will be permitted, although it is taking longer than anticipated.”
Norton concurred.
“The reason is, as much as we want to serve the current market in Brandon, we definitely don’t believe that the Grand Union location is the right location for the long term,” he said. “That location is smaller and can’t be expanded. We fully believe we need the supermarket location that is proposed on Nickerson Road for the long term.”
Paul Bruhn, the executive director of the anti-sprawl group The Preservation Trust of Vermont, said he thinks an insurance policy is exactly what Hannaford had in mind when agreeing in principle to purchase the Brandon Grand Union.
“I think it probably is,” he said. “Hannaford probably has some sort of contract that, if it gets permitted, they will come. But if they are not able to get permitted, then they will be happily established in Brandon.”
Bruhn testified for the opposition at the Dec. 9 Brandon Development Review Board hearing on the Brandon Plaza. Since last year when the plan first surfaced, the Preservation Trust has been advocating for an upgrade to the Grand Union rather than a new store on the outskirts of town. Now it seems they and many others who wish to see a more viable downtown supermarket will get their wish, at least temporarily.
“I think this is great news,” Bruhn said. “It’s great news for Brandon because downtown will have a new grocery store, one that will hopefully meet the needs of the community, and we’ll have to see how it plays out.”
Bruhn also said he hopes that McCabe and landowner Richard Baker will find another use for the Nickerson Road property, because he believes the permitting for the Brandon Plaza is indeed in jeopardy.
“Clearly the out-of-town property has some very significant problems,” Bruhn said, citing traffic issues and saying that the location is not convenient to pedestrians since it is almost a mile outside of downtown. The Preservation Trust has maintained that the plaza, which would also include 12,000 square feet of smaller retail and service shops and a 5,000-square-foot stand-alone restaurant, would bleed business from downtown Brandon, which already has eight empty storefronts.
“I hope the next step in this process is that the property owner and the developer take a look at other alternative possibilities that would really strengthen the area and add to the community’s economic strength. Finding another use for that property would be a good start.”

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