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Freshtown plans for a Grand Union takeover

NORTH EAST — For the second time in a month, Freshtown supermarket owners and operators Dan and Noah Katz appeared before the North East Planning Board for a preliminary discussion about their plans to take over the Grand Union. The brothers attributed their quick return to the fact that there wasn’t a full board at the Nov. 10 meeting and therefore they wanted to apprise all members of their plans. They also brought with them a partially-completed application. 

The Grand Union supermarket at the heart of the discussion is in the Millerton Square plaza on Route 44, just a stone’s throw from where another 36,000-square-foot, as-of-yet-unnamed supermarket is being proposed for the area of Thompson Plaza. But that isn’t stopping the Katzes from pursuing their goals, nor is one other detail — cooperation from Grand Union’s landlord, Robert Trotta.

“We have a few issues with the Trottas but are hopeful we can work them out,” acknowledged Noah Katz, who spearheaded the Nov. 30 presentation. “As far as the Grand Union [and its wholesaler] C&S, we’re [going] in a good direction, but there’s no definitive deal. We’re negotiating, but hopeful. But we want to let everybody know that whatever we’re going to do the Trottas will have to agree with it.”

A call to Trotta, an attorney as well as property owner and developer, shed no light on the issue. Trotta responded to all questions with the same response.

“No comment,” he said, repeatedly.

Freshtown, previously called Foodtown, has been in the Katz family since 1956, when the siblings’ grandfather started the business. It’s now a 60-store cooperative of groceries, of which the brothers own 13, including locations in Amenia and Dover Plains.

“The secret to our success is the people that work for us,” Katz said.  

As far as remodeling, the pair said they’ve done a dozen projects in the past two decades — mostly renovating existing chain stores. The projects call for cooperation with the municipalities and the communities in which they are located, Katz said, adding the stores also get involved with civic groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Lions Club. They also call for working closely with the property owner, added his brother.

“In this case ... the landlord would be there every step of the way,” Dan Katz said. 

The store’s contents, however, are another story. The brothers said they have refined their markets to suit their customers’ needs, while making the shopping experience as pleasant as possible.

“They are state-of-the-art stores on the inside,” Noah Katz said. “We have a huge network of local growers, we carry organic items ... have a floral department ... great customer service ... each store is slightly different. We  get excited about the supermarket business, and when we say we’re going to do something, we do it.”

To prove their point they brought artist renderings of numerous Freshtown takeovers and makeovers from around the region, as well as illustrations of what the 27,000-square-foot Millerton Grand Union could look like after Lynn Designs redoes the exterior of the store and christens it a Freshtown.

Some details

Board member Evelyn Garzetta brought up the lack of trees in the plaza’s parking lot, and asked if the applicants “had any plans to redo the lot.”

“That’s the site plan part of the process and the landlord’s area,” said Dan Katz. “But we agree certain changes could  be made.”

Another sore point was raised — the deserted Sunoco gas station with concrete blocks that has been on the plaza’s parking lot for years. It’s removal would be one of the conditions of getting an amended site plan approved, according to board member Bill Kish.

“You’re aware when you come before us one of the requirements will be the elimination of that defunct gas station on that site?” he asked.

Planning Board Chairman Dale Culver agreed. 

“It would likely be topic one and one-A,” Culver said.

“Duly noted,” replied Noah Katz.

From the audience, town resident and former Millerton Planning Board Chairwoman Cathy Fenn, asked if she could pose a question.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done inside that building,” she said. “All of the equipment inside is obsolete, so are you in negotiations to refurbish all of the inside?”

“We would redo all of the inside for sure,” said Dan Katz. “But the Trottas have to be involved.”

“Why now?” Fenn asked, regarding the Katzes’ timing on their application.

“C&S Wholesale Grocers — we switched all of our wholesale business from another [vendor] to C&S, and that opened our door to them selling us the lease,” Noah Katz said. “We have a supply agreement with them.”

“C&S is fine with us coming [and taking over Grand Union],” added his brother, who also said that the wholesaler unloaded most of the Grand Union chain a number of years ago, holding on to about eight or so stores in the region. “This is the last of them.”

The caveat?

“For the formal application you need an OK from the landlord,” Culver told the Katzes, who again expressed optimism that would  be doable.

“We would have a tough time understanding why the Trottas would not want to  bring a beautiful store here,” Dan Katz said, adding that as the store is already in place it would only need to be retrofitted.

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