Haggen selling its stores to Albertsons

The Haggen grocery store at Barkley Village in Bellingham is shown Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. The Bellingham-based grocer announced March 11 it is selling its remaining stores to Albertsons.
The Haggen grocery store at Barkley Village in Bellingham is shown Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. The Bellingham-based grocer announced March 11 it is selling its remaining stores to Albertsons. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Haggen has accepted Albertsons’ offer to be purchased, but many questions remain on what will become of those 29 core stores, including five in Whatcom County.

The agreement was announced Friday evening, March 11, and documents were filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. The deal is subject to finalizing some documents and requires bankruptcy court approval, according to a news release from Haggen. A court hearing about the sale is scheduled for 7 a.m. on Tuesday, March 29.

According to the court documents, Albertsons would pay a “base amount” of slightly more than $106.1 million for the 29 core stores. Haggen will close three locations once considered core stores in Puyallup, Port Angeles and Oregon City, Ore. According to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notifications for Washington, the Puyallup store has 78 employees while the Port Angeles store has 67 employees. Numbers for the Oregon store were unavailable Friday evening.

Albertsons spokesman Brian Dowling issued a statement confirming that the company did submit a bid for the purchase of the 29 Haggen stores. He said the company wasn’t prepared to comment further at this time.

For the hundreds of grocery workers at Haggen’s 29 core stores wondering about their future, this deal could be a hopeful sign because the same union — United Food and Commercial Workers International Local — is in both Albertsons and Haggen stores. Earlier this week, when Albertsons and Haggen were nearing a deal, at least one union leader expressed optimism.

“This news will hopefully end the uncertainty for our members and our communities. Our members look forward to continuing their unparalleled dedication to the neighborhoods and their customers,” said UFCW Local 367 President Denise Jagielo in the written release.

Depending on what Albertsons does with the Haggen stores once the deal is finalized, this could be signal the end of a store brand that has been a fixture in Bellingham for 83 years. Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville suggested Albertsons should consider keeping the name, particularly in this area. She noted that the Haggen name is the last of what was once several local families that operated grocery stores in Whatcom County, including Ennens and Brown & Cole.

“Bellingham has been blessed with several grocery families,” Linville said. “We’ve been fortunate to have such selection; Bellingham residents became foodies early on.”

At this point it is unclear what will happen to the Haggen corporate office, which is based in Barkley district. It is also unclear what will become of Haggen’s pharmacy, which is at 4545 Cordata Parkway. Those are some of the many decisions Albertsons and those involved in the bankruptcy proceedings will be making in the coming weeks.

Along with being a grocer, Haggen has been a major contributor and sponsor to a slew of community events. Perhaps the most well-known are the Fourth of July fireworks celebration and the Haggen to Haggen 5K run.

“Haggen became synonymous with the Fourth of July here in Bellingham,” said Guy Occhiogrosso, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He noted that in recent years, after the company was purchased by the private equity firm Comvest, they had increased contributions to the Fourth of July and other community events.

The sale to Albertsons also brings closure to the end of what’s been a strange, complicated trip for the company in the past 15 months. Haggen purchased 146 Albertson/Safeway stores last December to help satisfy a Federal Trade Commission requirement for that merger to be completed. The Bellingham-based grocery struggled to convert those stores to the Haggen brand, leading to Albertsons and Haggen suing each other for damages, which was later resolved. Then came the Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Sept. 8, followed by the closing and auctioning off of most of the stores Haggen had purchased.

For Whatcom County business owners and residents watching these events unfold, it was a confusing and disappointing period, Linville said.

Even with all those ups and downs, Occhiogrosso agrees with Linville that Albertsons ought to consider keeping the Haggen name. Although it is not quite locally owned, it is still connected with local, particularly when it comes to all the Whatcom County food products it continues to offer.

“It is worth keeping,” he said. “A lot of people are still shopping at Haggen because it is Haggen.”

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Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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