About 1,000 warehouse workers, truck drivers and machinists work at the two facilities, which total 1.1 million square feet. The new distribution center, in Denver, Pa., is 1.4 million square feet and will employ 700.
"The consolidation of two Philadelphia distribution centers and one Lancaster distribution center into the new Denver, Pa., facility is designed to create efficiencies, which allow Acme to better serve its customers," Walter Rubel, Acme's director of government and community affairs, said in a statement yesterday.
"The two Philadelphia distribution centers are outdated and cannot be expanded to an adequate size."
The new distribution/warehouse complex was built on 150 acres of vacant farmland.
The biggest building, a mammoth 32 acres under one roof, will handle both perishable and dry grocery products. About a third of the building is refrigerated. Two smaller buildings also are part of the $140 million project.
Rubel said Acme would add 450 retailing jobs in the city through expansion and remodeling of supermarkets.
"They've agreed to make up most of the job losses in their retail expansion," said Herb Vederman, deputy mayor for economic development in Philadelphia.
Vederman said city officials met with Acme executives in the summer of 1998 - before construction began in Denver - to offer land on Byberry Road and at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
"The reality is they had this land up in Lancaster County, and we didn't know they had it," he said.
"Even though we went through that process [of offering them incentives to stay], it was probably a done deal," Vederman said. "Still, it behooves us to go through it. They didn't have a shovel in the ground, so it wasn't totally naive to believe that they might be willing to sell their land."
Rubel said that the land on Byberry Road wasn't immediately available and that adding extra pilings to the Navy Yard site would have made the cost prohibitive.
According to the Food Trade News, a local trade publication, the new distribution center can service 300 supermarkets. Acme now operates 162 stores. Acme's headquarters will remain in Malvern, but the chain's buying staff will move to the Denver facility.
The new facility already has begun to accept shipments.
In the Aug. 19 letter, Acme said the 59th and Upland warehouse would close on Dec. 1, putting 450 workers, who together earn $289,000 a week, out of their jobs. The facility was constructed in 1952, Acme said.
Acme also said it would reduce operations at the produce and refrigeration center at Seventh and Pattison in South Philadelphia.
"If the produce operations continue at [700 Pattison], approximately 318 employees will be laid off around 6/1/2000, with a total weekly wage of approximately $222,000," the Aug. 19 letter to city Director of Commerce Stephen Mullin said.
"We've talked to Philadelphia Local 169 about trying to maintain the produce distribution functions at [7th and Pattison]," Rubel's statement yesterday said.
All of the union officials interviewed for this article said they believed Acme would ultimately close the facility.
Brennan said Acme invested about $8 million in the Pattison Avenue facility in 1993 when it closed its distribution and warehouse complex at 31st and Master Streets in the Brewerytown section.
Some workers at Acme's distribution centers - 250 truck drivers from Teamsters Local 500 and 30 mechanics from the International Association of Machinists, Local 447 - will be able to transfer to the new operation.
Caught in a jurisdictional limbo are the more than 700 warehouse workers at the Philadelphia facilities, represented by Teamsters Local 169.
Warehouse workers from Teamsters Local 771, which operates another Acme warehouse in Lancaster, believe that local should represent workers at the new facility. Local 169 disagrees.
"There's over a $7-an-hour pay difference," said Brennan of Local 169, with Local 771's workers making less. Local 169's contract expires in February.
The International Joint Council 53 of the Pennsylvania Conference of Brotherhood of Teamsters has voted in favor of Local 169's retaining the jobs. Local 771 has appealed to top Teamster officials. A decision is expected next month.
Acme would not comment on the dispute.