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Top stories of 2016: Haggen upheaval ends with sale to Albertsons

eabell@bhamherald.com

Whatcom County has had upheaval in the grocery industry over the years, but it doesn’t compare to what Haggen went through in 2015 and 2016.

The Bellingham-based grocer went from an 18-store company to one that had 164 stores in five states in early 2015. It did so by purchasing 146 Albertsons/Safeway stores, helping Albertsons satisfy a Federal Trade Commission requirement for its merger with Safeway to be completed. Haggen struggled to convert those new stores to the Haggen brand, leading to Albertsons and Haggen suing each other for damages, lawsuits that were later resolved.

Then came the Chapter 11 bankruptcy by Haggen in September 2015, followed by the closing and auctioning of most of the stores Haggen had purchased. By early 2016, Haggen agreed to sell its remaining 29 core stores to Albertsons, with 15 retaining the Haggen name. The deal was completed in March and Albertsons officially took over the Haggen stores June 2.

Since that time a sense of normalcy has returned. The five Whatcom County Haggen stores continue to focus on selling local products and have remained active in the community, such as sponsoring the Fourth of July fireworks and playing an active roll in the annual Community Food Drive.

“I want to sincerely thank Haggen employees, partners and customers for helping the little grocery store chain from Bellingham stay true to its values and commitment to its community over the past two years,” said John Clougher, group vice president and general manager of Haggen. “Honestly, we are absolutely ecstatic this holiday season celebrating friends, family and local food.”

One aspect that remains unresolved is between the creditors and Haggen’s former majority owner, Comvest Partners. A lawsuit was filed by a group of creditors in September, alleging that Comvest covertly siphoned away valuable real estate assets that Haggen acquired from Albertsons. That case is scheduled for a pretrial conference in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Jan. 19.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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