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City Superfresh closes as new market prepares to move in

Downtown Baltimore’s Superfresh grocery store will close Tuesday after more than four years in business, as part of a statewide shuttering of the chain’s stores.

But the supermarket is expected to reopen next week, as new ownership will transform it into a Mrs. Green’s Natural Market organic food store.

The Superfresh, located in Charles Plaza at Charles and Saratoga streets, will be closed by 6 p.m. Tuesday, said co-manager Steven Foster.

The store was mostly empty by Monday afternoon, and employees had packed up and were sitting outside to take a break. The store will be closed for the rest of the week. The setting up of the Mrs. Green’s Natural Market will likely start next week, Foster said. Superfresh employees will have to reapply for jobs for the new store, he said.

A district manager for Superfresh deferred to the chain’s parent company for further comment. Management did not allow photographers to photograph patrons or the vacant store.

Superfresh’s parent company, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. Inc. in Montvale, N.J., runs supermarket chains under six names in eight states in the Northeast and Washington, D.C. The company had been trying to sell 25 Superfresh stores, mostly in the Baltimore area. A&P was successful in finding buyers for 12 of its 25 stores.

Last week, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Southern District of New York approved the sale of 10 stores to a joint venture that includes natural foods chain Mrs. Green’s Management Corp. and Village Super Market Inc. The 10 stores include locations on Charles Street and on 41st Street, and others in Parkville, Arnold, White Oak, Lutherville-Timonium, Cambridge, Chestertown, Brunswick and Washington.

David J. Livingston, a supermarket research analyst in Waukesha, Wis., said he didn’t know if taking on several stores all at once was a good strategy for Mrs. Green’s, a smaller retail chain. Very few small chains that expand so rapidly actually succeed in running all the new stores, he said.

“I’m really wondering if that’s a really smart thing, to spread your resources thin by making such a large acquisition,” Livingston said. “There’s a learning curve with these stores. And for various reasons, Superfresh failed, and buyers weren’t lining up at the door to take them.”

Mrs. Green’s Natural Market will upgrade locations and expand product and service offerings, the company said in a statement.

“This investment is part of a strategy to grow our concept in under-served regions,” Matt Williams, CEO of parent company Natural Market Restaurants Corp., said in a statement.

Natural Market Restaurants Corp. is based in Toronto. Mrs. Green’s has 12 locations in New York and Connecticut.

The Ellicott City Superfresh store was sold to Supervalu Inc., while the Westminster store will be owned by Englar Center Limited Partnership. The 13 stores that were not sold will be closed. A&P will stop operating all of the stores by mid-July.

Eric C. Andrus, partner of New York, N.Y.-based Robinson Lerer & Montgomery LLC, which is representing A&P, declined to disclose how many employees work at the Charles Street location. Andrus said the company does not disclose employee information for the stores it is closing.

Based on these sales, the company expects auction proceeds in excess of $40 million, A&P said in a statement.

J. Kirby Fowler Jr., president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., said he spoke with officials from A&P and worked hard to get a bidder for the Charles Street store, but had not heard of Mrs. Green’s before the Scarsdale, N.Y.-based company won the bid.

Keeping a supermarket in the downtown Baltimore area was crucial for retaining residents, Fowler said.

“This Superfresh was doing very well,” he said. ‘The fact that there was a bid confirms our feelings. We’re counting ourselves lucky.”