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Workers shaken by news Kittanning Foodland will close

Brad Pedersen | Leader Times
Long time Kittanning Foodland Manager Bernie Bowser hangs liquidation tags on shelves Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, after store ownership told its 85 employees it would close its doors in September.

Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 12:51 a.m.
 

The owner of Foodland in East Franklin is keeping his business plans to himself as 85 workers at the store wonder about their futures in light of this week's announcement that the store will be closed next month.

“Supervalu determined Foodland is no longer a viable brand in this area and have either been converting them to Shop 'n Save or closing them all together,” owner George Hathaway said.

Supervalu is the food supplier for Hathaway's independently owned store.

“All of our options are open,” Hathaway said. “I'm really not at liberty to discuss plans further.”

Hathaway would not say what options are being considered or whether they include reopening the store under a different brand name. Store manager Bernie Bowser, who has worked at the store for 29 years, said he and the other employees were blindsided by news of the closing they received on Monday.

“It's devastating. We don't consider our employees as co-workers — they're family,” Bowser said. “The announcement caused a lot of heartache throughout the entire staff.”

The workers, who are represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 23, are unsure what the future holds, Bowser said.

“There haven't been any arrangements to relocate our employees,” Bowser said. “There's not much more that can be done other than give them letters of recommendations to help them find new jobs.”

A troubled economy and increased competition caused the store's sales to decline in the past 10 years, Bowser said. At one point, the store employed 125, but it eliminated positions as sales dipped.

“Our sales decline continually, no matter what we've done,” Bowser said. “We tried very hard to make this work by running our own in-store specials and larger ads, but with the increasing competition and bad economic times, we just couldn't survive.”

Former owner Butch Kane opened the Foodland in West Kittanning in 1982 and moved it to its current location in the Hilltop Plaza shopping center 10 years later. He sold the business to Hathaway in 2011.

East Franklin resident Cathy Cogley, who has been shopping at the store since it opened, said she was disappointed to hear it was closing.

“Maybe competition hurt them, but I think people just don't have the funds to shop as freely as they once did,” Cogley said. “I'm going to be very, very sad to see it go.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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