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Tops CEO: We want to be the downtown supermarket

Rochester, N.Y. - Standing in the newly renovated store in Brighton, Tops Friendly Markets CEO Frank Curci made his intentions clear: "We would like to be the supermarket that's downtown."

The Buffalo-based supermarket chain operates three stores within the Rochester city limits. A location within the downtown limits would be a first.

"We have our eye on it. We like what we see going on to be able to have the right kind of situation to be able to build a store," Curci said.

50,000 work downtown. More importantly the population of people living downtown has doubled since 1980 to 6,000. That number is steadily growing. In three years it is expected to reach what is called a "critical mass," or enough people to attract retailers.

"I think we're seeing enough people moving in downtown to begin making a case for a market like this," said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, President of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation. "If you factor in all the other neighborhoods you end up with a much bigger opportunity."

In Wegmans' backyard, Tops is building its affordability brand. Five of its Rochester-area stores now include gas pumps with per-gallon discounts tied to grocery purchases.

The company has spent $4 million to upgrade the Brighton store on South Clinton Avenue. Stores in Henrietta and Irondequoit will move to new locations and be expanded to include gas pumps.

"This is not a shift in our marketing strategy but a shift in thinking that this is a great place to do business," Curci says of Rochester. "There is a place for two players in this market."

"I think it's great," says shopper Alisa Hall who was in the Brighton store with her son. "It's larger with more inventory, you can find anything you want here now."

Hall lives on Highland Drive but often shops at the Pittsford Wegmans to find an expanded line of organic and gluten free products. "Now its right down the street, we don't have to drive to Pittsford unless we choose," said Hall.

A downtown store would be smaller, more specialized and upscale.

"We can build a nice store that's sized for the market," said Curci.

He says a site has not yet been chosen and development would likely not occur before 2015.


Jane Flasch

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Washington Times