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Owner of Lewiston Tops vows to stay course – no matter the corporate news

When you dial the main number for the Tops Market in Lewiston, the answering machine greeting is, "Thank you for calling DiMino's Lewiston Market."

Not until the end of the voicemail menu does a caller hear, "Thank you for calling your Lewiston Tops."

It's a Tops store – it has been since 1964 – but one with an independent owner.

Anthony P. DiMino owns one of Tops' five franchised stores, operated in a similar way to a McDonald's or a Burger King.

So Wednesday's news that the Tops chain has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in hopes of reducing its debt load left him unmoved.

"There'll be no impact at all," DiMino said. "Absolutely none."

Tops expects to emerge from bankruptcy with new ownership

What if the worst happens and Tops were to go under?

"Then I'd find a new franchise," said DiMino, the second-generation owner of the only grocery store in Lewiston.

After the news broke Wednesday morning, DiMino met with some of his 195 employees.

"We basically reassured them that there is no consequence to us. It's business as usual," DiMino said. "Our company's very stable. We're going to be remodeling again this spring. We have plenty of capital as a company. We're going full-speed ahead."

He pays a franchise fee to Tops, which supplies him with product to sell and takes care of advertising. All the typical Tops departments and sales are available in DiMino's store.

"We've been a very progressive type of store," DiMino said. "We're as modern and as up-to-date as any grocery store in the United States."

He said his store's recent sales figures have been "probably a little better than the chain."

But he's feeling the competition from other stores, since 90 percent of Lewiston residents work outside Lewiston and can stop somewhere else for groceries, including Wegmans and Walmart in Niagara Falls.

"Ten years ago a Family Dollar and Dollar General didn't have their stores filled 80 percent with groceries. Same thing with the Rite Aids and CVS's of the world. Everybody's looking for grocery dollars," DiMino said.

Another franchised Tops store is located on South Transit Road in Lockport, owned by the Perna family since 1965.

A manager at the Lockport store, who was not authorized to speak for attribution, said the chain's Chapter 11 filing "shouldn't affect us."

The Lockport store employs about 300 people and is located within a half-mile of Walmart, Aldi, Save-a-Lot and Dollar General, so competition is fierce.

The Pernas, under the name of Supermarket Management Inc., also own Tops locations in Lancaster and on Niagara Street in Buffalo.

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