With less than a week before Haggen is scheduled to auction off its 33 core stores, it has gone quiet in terms of public announcements.
The deadline for qualified bidder filings came and went on Friday, Jan. 29 with no court documents filed relating to the bidders nor any comment from the Bellingham-based grocer. Next up is the auction itself, which will be on Friday, Feb. 5 but a time or location hasn’t been publicly disclosed.
While it’s unclear who will be bidding in next week’s auction, there is an expectation by Haggen that it will draw plenty of bidder interest. The 33 core stores are profitable as a block, according to court documents, and many are in strong retail locations in Washington and Oregon communities.
For these stores, it is generally a more positive situation
Tom Geiger, communications director for the United Food and Commercial Workers 21
For the workers, it’s now down to the final days before they learn about their future employer. Tom Geiger, communications director for the United Food and Commercial Workers 21, said they recently had a meeting with some of the union leaders of the core Haggen stores to hear about any concerns the workers may have. Geiger described the atmosphere at this meeting as having more a feeling of stability compared to the meetings prior to the auction of the non-core stores in November. At the non-core auction meetings it was unclear whether those stores would be sold or closed permanently.
“For these stores, it is generally a more positive situation,” Geiger said, adding that there is still a bit of anxiety out there. “We’re certainly hoping for the best with this auction.”
This is the latest step as the company navigates through its Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Haggen purchased 146 stores from Albertsons and Safeway in 2015 to help satisfy a Federal Trade Commission requirement of shedding stores before a Safeway-Albertsons merger. Haggen struggled mightily in converting those stores, leading to the bankruptcy filing in September.
On the day of the qualified bidder deadline, several court documents were filed objecting to some aspects of the upcoming core store auction. For example one objection was filed about the Oak Harbor store, which has its lease scheduled to expire on Monday, Feb. 1, putting into question whether Haggen has a lease at that building when the auction takes place on Friday, Feb. 5. Other document filings for the day included objections to payment amounts and filings related to unexpired building leases.
The impending auction does not necessarily mean the end of the Haggen store name. An investor or buyer could come in and purchase the stores with the intention of keeping the brand, which is well-known in the Pacific Northwest. It is also possible that the Comvest Group, the Florida private investment firm that became the major stakeholder in the company in 2011, could enter the auction and be the high bidder.
It’s also possible that a different grocer could be the high bidder and convert the stores to its brand, marking the end of the Haggen era.