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New York's iconic Fairway Market said this morning that it "has filed a voluntary petition under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York to complete its strategic sale process.  The Company has entered into a stalking horse asset purchase agreement with Village Super Market, Inc. to sell up to 5 New York City Fairway stores and its Distribution Center for approximately $70 million.  In addition, the Company will execute a Court supervised sale process to continue to negotiate for the sale of its remaining store locations."

The company says that its stores will remain open and operating - with the assistance of 25 million in debtor in possession financing - as the sale process unfolds.

Abel Porter, Fairway's CEO, said in a prepared statement that "after careful consideration of all alternatives, we have concluded that a Court-supervised sale process is the best way to meet our objectives of preserving as many jobs as possible, maximizing value for our stakeholders, and positioning Fairway for long term success under new ownership."

Robert Sumas, CEO of Village Super Market - which operates ShopRite and Gourmet Garage stores in the New York metropolitan area - said in a statement, "Perry and Nick Sumas opened the first Village Market in 1937, and our family continues to believe deeply in the importance of neighborhood grocery stores.  We appreciate that Fairway's loyal customers are concerned about the future, and if we are successful in our bid, we are committed to keeping Fairway, including its name, unique product selection and value, a part of this community."

Fairway started as a fruit and vegetable stand during the Great Depression, and grew into an iconic New York City presence, serving a number of its neighborhoods in a way that many residents found to be both irresistible and inimitable. But in 2007, when the founding Glickberg family sold an 80 percent stake in the company to a private equity group, things almost immediately downhill, as the new owners focused on expansion (at one point considering a national growth strategy) without any of the marketing and merchandising savvy and panache that the family had mastered. It went public … then went bankrupt … then was bought out of bankruptcy … and then started closing some of the suburban stores that were the biggest drain on its operations and profits.
KC's View:
There have been a number of companies reported to be interested in Fairway, including Albertsons and Amazon … but for my money, the Village Super Market idea seems ideal, and the one most likely to bring order and marketing smarts to the mess that is much of Fairway. It'll be interesting to see who gets the stores that Village doesn't seem interested in (including one just a few miles from me, in Stamford, Connecticut, which is a nightmare of a store) … and I just hope that it'll be someone who understands how important these stores can be to the their communities.

And, for the record, the core Fairway stores are about as important to their neighborhoods as a grocery store can be. Customers think of them as being "their stores." That's a huge advantage to a company that acquires, values and nurtures that heritage.

I am heartened by the fact that Scott Moses of PJ Solomon is advising Fairway in the process.

I've said it here before, and I'll repeat it: Community is extremely important to Scott. Sure, he's an investment banker and this is what he does. But Scott also is a guy who feels the pain of independent grocers very deeply, wants to help companies find ways to survive and thrive even in the most dire circumstances, and is highly focused on a phrase he uses as his business mantra: "Advising the Families Who Feed America’s Families." He takes seriously the notion of helping threatened companies find ways to create value while remaining true to their values, and I really respect that.

Scott, who is a friend, reached out to me this morning to say, "I am really proud to be a part of this transaction, helping a local institution continue to serve our city. These stores are so important to so many people, including my own family. Our work is always personal; today it is really hitting home."

Like I said.