George's stores sold

March 23, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Financial difficulties and a strong desire to take it easy have led George Mezardash to sell four of his five George's IGA grocery stores -- in Eldersburg, Finksburg, Woodbine and Woodsboro.

"I just felt it was time to slow down," said Mr. Mezardash, 64, who has spent a lifetime in the grocery business. At one time, the Union Bridge resident owned six supermarkets and 14 Little George's convenience stores.

Mr. Mezardash said yesterday he will continue to run the George's IGA in Libertytown, five miles from his home, and four Little George's stores in Glenelg, New Market, Taylorsville and Marston. His final supermarket, in Randallstown, closed Dec. 31 with no current plans to reopen.

The four convenience stores were acquired after December 1986 when he and his then-partner Melvin R. Higgs had a good-natured separation, Mr. Mezardash said. At that time, Mr. Higgs -- who had worked with Mr. Mezardash from 1970 to 1986 -- took control of 14 Little George's stores and Mr. Mezardash kept the four grocery stores he then owned.

Mr. Mezardash said he sold the Woodsboro store to Steven Trout on Thursday.

"I had bought it from his father 10 years ago, and sold it to his son last week so they could keep it in the family," he said.

The remaining three grocery stores changed hands Wednesday, with Finksburg going to the Oklahoma City-based Scrivner Inc. and B. Green of Baltimore purchasing the Eldersburg and Woodbine locations. Neither company nor Mr. Mezardash would disclose the purchase price.

"My understanding is that the landlord [of the Finksburg store] was Scrivner, and Scrivner took back possession of the store," said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a trade publication based in Columbia.

"It's difficult to operate when the landlord, a wholesaler/retailer, is going to exercise its option to purchase," he said. "It's a difficult mental outlook when you know eventually you're going to lose them."

Mr. Mezardash, who worked with Scrivner for 27 years and ran his stores as a SuperThrift chain before becoming an independent grocer in October 1991, confirmed that Scrivner pTC had held the leases for the Finksburg and Randallstown stores.

Scrivner's media representative, Chris Ahearn, said the 32,000-square-foot store will be renovated into a Jubilee Foods within the next few months. All 98 employees will be retained at the store, which will be run from the company's York, Pa., office, she said.

The store remains open for business.

"We purchased the store because it is in a good location and ties in with our other Jubilee stores in the area," said Ms. Ahearn, noting the company owns four stores in Maryland. Scrivner owns a Festival Foods in Greenmount and Jubilee stores in Union Bridge, Emmitsburg, Taneytown and Thurmont.

Ms. Ahearn would not comment on the company's lease agreement with Mr. Mezardash.

As for the Eldersburg and Woodbine locations, Mr. Mezardash acknowledged that his debts to B. Green contributed to the takeover.

"It was quite a bit of money," Mr. Mezardash said of the debt, declining to disclose the amount.

B. Green had been a wholesale supplier to the George's stores until Richfoods of Mechanicsville, Va., bought B. Green's wholesale division in January 1993, said Gary Shell, vice president of B. Green and general manager of the Eldersburg George's.

Although Mr. Shell would not comment further, Mr. Metzger said B. Green retained the debt after the sale. B. Green is now a redistributor; it buys food from wholesalers and resells it to small independent grocers and convenience stores.

It also owns eight retail outlets including the George's stores.

"As much as anything, I think the movement on the other two stores was a catalyst for the other things happening," Mr. Metzger said.

His publication, which tracks a grocery chain's percentage of the Baltimore area sales, recorded $39.9 million -- or a little more than 1 percent of the Baltimore market -- for the six George's stores from April 1992 to April 1993. The list is updated each

June, he said.

"They have been good stores and were an opportunity to increase our retail base," Mr. Shell said of B. Green's purchase. "They were for sale and we bought them."

Both stores will retain the George's name and continue to carry the Richfoods and IGA labels, he said.

Employees were required to reapply for their jobs, but none of the 124 workers at the 27,000-square-foot Eldersburg store or the 56 workers at the 14,500-square-foot Woodbine location was laid off, Mr. Shell said. The reapplication process was simply a matter of paperwork, he said.

"We took them on as new employees," Mr. Shell said. "Every employee was offered a job."

But several employees, who asked to remain anonymous, said they were angry that during the transition all vacation and leave time they had accrued was lost.

"The new owners said they will honor next year's [vacations]," an employee said. "That's not the fault of the new owner. It's from the previous owner."

Mr. Shell and Mr. Mezardash would not comment on the employees' vacation complaints.

"Right now there's a concern," Mr. Mezardash said.

B. Green will also continue to offer a program exchanging cash register receipts for computers and other school equipment similar to the Giant "Apples for the Students" promotion, Mr. Mezardash said.

The offer, considered generous by many community members, was difficult to maintain, he said.

"But, that was always my nature," Mr. Mezardash said.

He said he didn't feel the children's playroom or employee-run coffee shop in the Eldersburg location, drawing cards offered by some larger grocery chains, had been difficult to run. Both should remain under B. Green's management, he said.

Nor would the independent grocer blame his financial problems, on which he declined to elaborate, on the larger chains moving into the South Carroll area.

"Competition is rough for everybody right now," Mr. Mezardash said.

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