Three area Genuardi's stores to reopen as Weis Markets

Weis CEO David J. Hepfinger said even more stores are planned here.
Weis CEO David J. Hepfinger said even more stores are planned here.
Posted: June 13, 2012

It is no mere stroke of good fortune that three former Genuardi's supermarkets in the Philadelphia suburbs will reopen this weekend as Weis Markets.

The stores — on Ridge Pike in Conshohocken, West Germantown Pike in East Norriton, and Old Dublin Pike in Doylestown — are part of a calculated strategy to expand a little-known name deeper into the Philadelphia region, where, despite the presence of many grocery options, new players can't seem to stay away.

The Sunbury, Pa.-based Weis chain has been remaking itself for several years, rebranding all its holdings in its core central and north-central Pennsylvania markets: Mr. Z's stores in the Poconos and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area have become Weis Markets, as have King's stores in the Lehigh Valley and Scot's Lo Cost stores.

The rebranding goes hand in hand with an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in renovations and acquisitions since Weis hired a new leader in 2008 and set about a more aggressive growth strategy, president and CEO David J. Hepfinger said Monday.

"We have long been a profitable venture," Hepfinger said of the chain, which went public in 1965 and celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. "But what I walked into was a little bit of tarnished, or declining, market share, and we needed to kind of right that ship. We needed to invest in our assets store location by store location to turn things back around."

The three former Genuardi's locations in question — a fraction of the 27 divested by Safeway Inc. earlier this year — went dark over the weekend in advance of the Weis acquisition closing on Monday. Pharmacies, however, will remain open as the stores are spruced up for their rechristenings on Saturday.

For Weis, landing these locations ended a process begun many years earlier, when the chain unsuccessfully sought to buy Genuardi's, Hepfinger said. Safeway ultimately walked away with the family-owned Genuardi's chain and set about what local industry observes have characterized as the neglect of an esteemed gourmet brand.

In January, Safeway announced that it would sell 16 Genuardi's locations to Giant Food Stores, shut three locations, and market the remaining eight to other buyers.

A Safeway spokesman did not respond to a request Monday for information about the fate of the five other locations that had been put up for sale.

The three stores being added in Montgomery and Bucks Counties raise to seven the Weis store count in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Hepfinger said. Current stores are in Lansdale, Gilbertsville, Pottstown, and Pennsburg.

Hepfinger said four more stores were planned, but he offered few details.

Some might view the Weis move into metropolitan Philadelphia as tricky, given the abundance of competing food retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, Acme, Super Fresh, Pathmark, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Shop Rite. Stalwarts Pathmark and Super Fresh have just emerged from bankruptcy, and Acme has shed stores and more than 1,000 employees in the last few years as it copes with declining sales and high overhead.

Hepfinger, however, said this region's demographics were appealing, particularly for a business that relies on high-volume sales to turn a profit.

"Everywhere I put stores down today, I stand up against every one of these competitors that are over in Philadelphia," he said. Weis has 161 stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia.

"The one thing that makes Philadelphia more attractive than the average," Hepfinger said, "is the density of population."

The three new Weis stores will employ just shy of 400 people, including 220 former employees of the nonunion Genuardi's workforce.

Before Hepfinger was named president of Weis, the company allocated an estimated $35 million to $40 million annually to capital improvements.

Last year, the company spent $100 million. This year, the number is $125 million, which is helping to finance 18 major remodels and the acquisition of stores.

The company is on a mission, he said: "We call it our no-store-left-behind initiative. We are either remodeling, replacing or upgrading every facility we have."

Three years into the six-year plan, about 100 stores have been renovated. The rest will receive face lifts in the months and years to come.

Contact Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or mpanaritis@phillynews.com or on Twitter @panaritism.

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