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SUPERMARKETS ADD SURCHARGE TO ATMS

The area's two leading supermarket chains, among the last bastions of free withdrawals from automated teller machines, have gone the way of the banking industry and begun assessing a surcharge.

Wegmans began assessing a $1 fee at machines in all 59 of its stores in October. Tops Markets piled on this month and instituted a 50-cent surcharge at its 228 ATMs in Tops and Wilson Farms stores.

The surcharge is not the only fee most consumers will pay for using a supermarket machine. Most banks charge an "off us" fee of $1 to $2 when their customers use a different ATM machine.

Banks typically allow customers to use their bank-owned ATMs without any fees, which is the most economical way for consumers to withdraw cash.

The new policy could prompt more consumers to get cash back while paying for groceries with a debit card. Both Tops and Wegmans allow customers to get up to $40 back from cashiers. Representatives for both grocery chains said the new fees are needed to help defray the cost of maintaining ATMs.

"We wanted to provide this service to our customers, but also cover the cost. We decided 50 cents was appropriate," said Brian LaValley, community relations manager for Tops.

The new fees will mean thousands of dollars in additional monthly revenue for the two chains. Some busy supermarket machines crank out more than 5,000 transactions a month.

The machine owners also collect an interchange fee, ranging from 40 cents to 50 cents per transaction, from the customer's bank.

"Although the fees that we receive from the networks remain relatively constant, we have had to incur the expense of maintaining those machines and replacing some of them when necessary," said Wegmans spokeswoman Ann McCarthy.

Buffalo-based Cartel Network continues to own 95 machines nationally, including 19 in Western New York Delta Sonic shops and 12 at local Vix Deep Discount and Pharmacy stores, which do not surcharge.

"I'm starting to feel like an island," said Joseph Wolfson, chairman of Cartel, a network processor for the grocery chains. "We're the only ones left worrying about this."

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