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Tops Markets investing in stores again after bankruptcy struggles

Tops Markets will begin investing in its stores again, something it wasn't able to do as it struggled through bankruptcy.

The company announced a $40 million capital improvement plan Thursday, which analysts said would be key for the Amherst chain to hit the ground running after bankruptcy.

With more grocery choices available to Western New York shoppers than ever, store investments are important to keep stores fresh. That's especially the case in a stagnant market with lots of competition from places such as Trader Joe's and Target.

Tops had planned to upgrade selected stores but slashed that spending by more than half in 2017 as its financial troubles mounted. It spent nothing on capital improvements in 2018 as the company's continued struggles to manage its suffocating debt load caused it to virtually run out of cash just before its bankruptcy filing.

The bankruptcy, however, has freed up $100 million in additional funding and given Tops more financial wiggle room.

Investing in stores is vital for supermarket companies like Tops to stay competitive in an industry where profit margins are measured in pennies and it battles with established grocers like Wegmans, Aldi and Walmart for shoppers. As recently as 2016, Tops had been spending more than $40 million a year on store upgrades.

The company's new plan is to once again start remodeling stores with new interior renovations, exterior facades, landscaping and parking lots. They'll get new decor packages, flooring, energy efficient equipment, cart corrals, shopping carts and produce, bakery, deli and carry out departments.

There will be more natural, organic, gluten-free options throughout each location, as well as added refrigerated convenience produce, store-cut fruit and vegetables and antibiotic-free meat and seafood. Some will also receive new coffee shops and seating areas.

The company is intensely focusing on its adding locations with home delivery and curbside pickup, a popular option offered by other grocers such as Dash's, Walmart, Target and Wegmans. Tops hopes to offer the service at a total of 20 stores and counting by the end of May.

Renovations have begun at some stores, including:

  • 1600 Cedar St. in Elmira, which includes a new gas station
  • 156 Church St. in Saranac Lake
  • 700 Thruway Plaza in Cheektowaga
  • 12775 Broadway in Alden
  • 128 W. Main St. in Leroy
  • 1740 Sheridan Drive

More locations slated for improvement will be announced later, Tops said. Stores will remain open during renovations.

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