The Waldbaum’s supermarket in Westhampton Beach did not, in fact, close its doors for good on Friday, September 11, according to signs posted throughout the Sunset Avenue market—although the fate of the supermarket remains unknown.
The signs, one of which immediately greets customers as they walk in the automatic door, states that a prior article in The Press, published on August 20, incorrectly reported that the store would be closing permanently at the end of the business day on September 11. In that article, Paul Houlihan, the village’s zoning and building inspector, stated that a store manager had informed him of the September closing date in early August, when his department had to respond to multiple complaints about grease leaking from the supermarket’s trash compactor and into a nearby storm drain.
When reached Friday morning, Mr. Houlihan said The Press’s prior article was “exactly accurate,” again repeating that, in August, the manager had told him that he cannot get the supermarket’s parent company, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company in New Jersey, to make any repairs to the store because, the manager told him, “as of September 11, we’re done.” That conversation occurred less than a month after the chain filed for bankruptcy.
“Now he’s saying he doesn’t know when they’re leaving,” Mr. Houlihan said, referring to the manager. “He was very, very specific, though, in August when we talked to him. That seems to have changed.”
Representatives with the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, which filed for bankruptcy this summer and had, up until this summer, operated 296 stores under the brand names of A&P, Best Cellars, Pathmark, Waldbaum’s and others, did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment prior to that article’s publication.
On Friday, Brandon Messina with Sard Verbinnen and Company in Manhattan, a firm that, according to its website, “provides strategic communication advice and services” for its clients, returned a call on behalf of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. He then declined to answer any questions specific to the Westhampton Beach location, including whether or not there is a new closing date or if the supermarket will remain open until a buyer for the store is found.
“We are not commenting on that,” he said when asked about the fate of the Sunset Avenue supermarket.
In July, Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company announced that it would be closing 25 stores that it could not find buyers for, while another estimated 120 stores would be sold off for approximately $600 million. The Westhampton Beach supermarket was not included on either list, suggesting that it, along with the chain’s estimated 150 remaining stores, are still being actively shopped.
Mr. Houlihan also noted that, back in August, the manager of the Waldbaum’s told him that several other grocery store chains, including King Kullen and Stop & Shop, had expressed interest in possibly taking over the supermarket. He added that, as of Friday morning, his office has not been contacted by any supermarket chains inquiring about the Sunset Avenue property.
Local residents have criticized the Waldbaum’s for years, most notably after the chain abandoned its plan several years ago to expand and renovate the supermarket. They have also raised issues with the quality and inflated prices of the merchandise being sold there.
“I shop there because it’s there,” Jackie Bennett of Westhampton Beach said of the Sunset Avenue store. “And I tell you that, for a few days at the end of August or the beginning of September, it looked like they were not going to restock the shelves.”
While workers are now restocking certain merchandise, Ms. Bennett noted that some items that she specifically looks for—such as sugar-free chocolate pudding—have not been stocked by Waldbaum’s for the last four or five years. Meanwhile, the store’s prices, especially during the summer months, “are still out of sight” when compared to other supermarkets, she added.
At the same time, Ms. Bennett said her continued patronage has a lot to do with the supermarket’s longtime employees, including many of whom do not know what the future holds for them. “I do miss the people who work here,” she said, “so I still buy my eggs here.”