BUFFALO, N.Y. — Even while filing for bankruptcy, Tops Markets remained optimistic about the grocery chain's future.
“When we see these preliminary reports of financial difficulties, the first thing that comes to mind is whether or not these stores are going to close. We are being told at this point that that is not the case or it is going to be very minimal," state Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said.
The chain said business remains steady but it's facing issues with debt and so it's using the process as a chance to restructure. State legislators, for now, said they’re taking the corporation at its word.
“This is an economic strategy for Tops, I believe," Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes said. "I don’t get to sit in their management meetings but I have heard that they have been having some struggles and sometimes, in order to figure out your struggles and right-size things, you need to declare bankruptcy to do that.”
At the same time, legislators said they understand the importance of the chain, which owns roughly 170 stores across Upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont and employs more than 14,000 people.
“We have to pay attention to what’s happening very carefully and make sure that if there are issues with closures and that sort of thing and reconfigurations, that the workforce and their families are well-tended to," Kennedy said.
They said Tops is not only a vital economic driver in the region, but also provides important access to healthy food in many of upstate’s poorer areas.
"Tops is located in many communities where other markets won't locate and so for many of the folks that I serve, we are still in need of having a viable supermarket with fresh fruits, vegetables and meats," Peoples-Stokes said.
Legislators pointed out the state incentives are typically for business either entering or considering leaving New York. Neither is the case for Tops, so navigating any kind of government assistance, if needed, could be tricky.
“I will reach out to Empire State Development and ask them, ‘is there a role for Empire State Development Corporation to be engaged?’" Peoples-Stokes said
“If there’s a way for the state to play a role from an economic development perspective to ensuring the viability and sustainability of Tops in our community, we’re going to be there,” Kennedy said.