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June 25, 2012

Longtime Norwich grocery chain headquarters departed for Utica in 1992


Daily Star

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"We're sitting on pins and needles."

It was late June 1992, and Chenango County economic developer Robert Hammons was referring to the deal involving the sale of the Norwich-based Victory Markets to a Long Island investment group. The concern was about the status of hundreds of local jobs at the company's headquarters and warehouses.

It had only been about six years since Victory had been bought in a leveraged deal by LNC Industries of Australia. In 1992, Victory markets was running 77 Great American Food Stores in New York state.

On Friday, June 19, Victory announced that it entered a "definite agreement" to sell all of its equity to Long Island-based Center Capital Investors, a private investment firm involving Aaron Malinsky, former executive vice president of A&P Supermarkets and president of Waldbaum's Inc.

Norwich and Chenango County officials had heard nothing from Victory or Centre Capital Investors about the deal, other than it was in the works.

That was until Tuesday morning, Aug. 18, when Malinsky made the announcement at a news conference in Utica that Victory Markets would be moving its operations to that city in the next few months.

Norwich stood to lose 580 jobs. There would be about 100 jobs available in Utica if employees wished to remain with the company.

No sooner than the ink was dry on the deal, security guards were brought in to Norwich offices and some workers were almost immediately escorted to the door with their personal belongings.

"The bottom has been pulled out from us and there was nothing we could have done," Mayor Marjorie Chomyszak said.

Not long before she became mayor, the city of Norwich had lent Victory Markets millions of dollars in federal money during the 1980s to help the company build a state-of-the-art facility.

A plan was pitched in early October of that year for more than 300 unionized workers affected by the move to Utica, to purchase several of the Victory facilities in Norwich and convert them into an employee-operated grocery distribution business.

Centre Capital Investors turned down the offer to buy Victory property under an employee stock option purchase plan.

"We were surprised because this was feasible and financeable," Hammons said. "It did not appear they gave it a lot of consideration because they did not ask us one single question from the time it was submitted until they rejected it," on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

The jobs departed and the former Victory properties were vacant, but for only a short time. The Daily Star reported that a majority of the space had been leased, but that the majority of the jobs lost in the move to Utica had not been replaced.

The Centre Capital Investors move to Utica enjoyed little success, as the company had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1995. Great American Stores in Oneonta, New Berlin and the Binghamton area had closed during 1995-96, according to a Star article from May 1996.

A loan was also granted in federal bankruptcy court to Victory Markets in May 1996. That was the last gasp, as the chain soon went bankrupt. Many of the stores were sold and are still run under the Great American name. You won't find one in Norwich, as the last store closed in the city in February 1998.

The former Victory Markets' headquarters at 54 E. Main St. is now the site of a shopping plaza, anchored by Tops Friendly Markets.

This weekend: an 1862 Fourth of July in Oneonta.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.