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Stop & Shop will buy King Kullen, a Long Island supermarket icon

Stop & Shop will acquire 32 King Kullen stores, five Wild by Nature stores, and get the use of King Kullen's Bethpage headquarters.

Stop & Shop says it will acquire King

Stop & Shop says it will acquire King Kullen.   Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Supermarket chain King Kullen, a business icon on Long Island for decades, will be acquired by Stop & Shop.

Quincy, Massachusetts-based Stop & Shop said Friday the deal will give it all of King Kullen’s stores: 32 supermarkets and five Wild by Nature natural food stores, all on Long Island. It will also get the use of King Kullen's Bethpage headquarters. 

A price for the deal wasn't disclosed.

“Our family has been in the grocery business for 88 years," Brian Cullen, co-president of King Kullen Grocery Co., said in a statement. "Recently, we determined that the best option for our family and our associates was to merge King Kullen into Stop & Shop.

"We are grateful to our Long Island customers and employees over several generations and proud to have supported so many fine organizations. It has been an honor and a privilege to be part of the fabric of this Island for all these years.”

King Kullen is a premier local company and one of Long Island’s largest employers, said Kevin S. Law, president and chief executive of the Long Island Association, a Melville-based business advocacy group.

“They most certainly will be missed and it remains to be seen if Stop & Shop can fill the void that the great men and women of King Kullen . . . have served for almost the last century,” he said. 

Consolidation is happening across every industry, so “it’s not surprising that the large national and international chains would eventually acquire homegrown local chains,” Law said.

The announcement comes the same week that Lidl US, the U.S. arm of German discount grocer Lidl, closed on its purchase of Bethpage-based Best Market’s 27 stores in New York and New Jersey, including 24 on Long Island.

That deal, announced in November, left King Kullen as the last major family-owned supermarket chain on Long Island, said retail expert Burt Flickinger III, who founded Manhattan-based Strategic Resource Group and has studied Long Island retail.

King Kullen and Stop & Shop did not provide details about the number of King Kullen employees, whether the King Kullen name will be preserved, or how many stores will close. "Stop & Shop is committed to retaining as many associates as possible through this transaction," said Jennifer Brogan, director of communications and community relations for Stop & Shop.

Bethpage resident Frank Foley, 74, who said he shops at King Kullen regularly, said outside the chain's Bethpage supermarket on Friday that he hopes the merger will not affect the company’s employees. “My hope is that this store and the others stay open,” he said.

Stop & Shop’s acquisition of King Kullen stands to benefit consumers by lowering prices, Flickinger said.

“This is Stop & Shop increasing its procurement power to lower prices against Lidl’s and Amazon’s food retail Armageddon," he said.

King Kullen's founder was Michael J. Cullen. While working as a general manager at a Kroger Stores branch in Herrin, Illinois, in 1929, Cullen proposed that Kroger build “five prototype self-service, cash-and-carry supermarkets ‘monstrous in size,’” according to a reference book, “the International Directory of Company Histories,” published in 1996.

The president of Kroger never saw the proposal because a subordinate rejected it.

Cullen founded King Kullen on Jamaica Avenue in Queens in 1930. King Kullen markets itself as "America's first supermarket," a claim confirmed by the Smithsonian Institution.

King Kullen locations on Long Island

Where to find 32 King Kullen stores (in blue) and the related Wild by Nature shops (purple).

“King Kullen is a well-respected grocery chain in the Long Island market that has an 88-year tradition of excellent customer service,” said Mark McGowan, president of Stop & Shop. “We look forward to bringing our quality, selection and value to more communities in Nassau and Suffolk counties.”

Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. has the largest market share among Long Island supermarkets, with 35.25 percent of sales, according to Food Trade News, a Columbia, Maryland-based publication. King Kullen is number three, at 11.46 percent.

Stop & Shop employs more than 61,000 workers and operates more than 400 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey, the company said. It has 51 stores on Long Island.

The chain is owned by Ahold Delhaize, a Dutch retailer whose other grocery stores include Food Lion, Giant Food and Hannaford. Ahold also owns Peapod, the online grocery retailer.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 1500 in Westbury represents about 2,700 King Kullen and Wild by Nature employees, including deli staff, produce workers and cashiers, and UFCW Local 342 in Mineola represents about 300 employees in King Kullen’s and Wild by Nature’s meat and seafood departments, union officials said. 

King Kullen has closed more stores than it has opened in recent years. It shut five stores between 2015 and 2017: in Selden, Syosset, Commack, Northport and East Setauket. King Kullen opened a store in a former Waldbaum’s space in North Patchogue in 2015. Competition among grocery retailers is growing, nationally and on Long Island, as new food retail channels emerge and older outlets consolidate, said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food Trade News.

King Kullen has a strong legacy, Metzger said, but the chain hasn’t invested heavily in building new stores or rehabbing existing ones. “And the old cliché is if you’re kind of standing still, you’re kind of going backwards,” he said.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of this year, Stop & Shop said.

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