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Former Safeway store gearing up to reopen

For the 70-plus former employees of Safeway on Siskiyou Boulevard in Ashland the new year brings more uncertainty. The store, once owned by Safeway, then bought in a merger with Albertsons, was forced into a sale by the Federal Trade Commission less than a year ago. The FTC order said because Albertsons already owned and operated a store in Ashland it would be unfair for them to own another. The company sold it to Haggen, a Northwest retail chain, which then filed for bankruptcy in September and closed the store. 

Lawsuits and counterclaims are flying back and forth between Albertsons and Haggen about alleged unfair trade practices, but for employees of the former Safeway, some who worked at the location for more than 20 years, there are few answers. 

Albertson’s was allowed to buy Safeway back and re-open by the FTC. It’s an odd turn of events as less than a year after Albertsons was ordered to sell off roughly 150 grocery stores as part of its nearly $10 billion merger with Safeway, the grocery chain is being allowed to buy its old stores back at bargain prices. 

A federal bankruptcy judge approved Albertsons' purchase of some 33 stores, including the one in Ashland, after the Haggen bankruptcy. The buyback seems to undermine the FTC order that required Albertsons to sell stores to prevent the company from having a monopoly. But virtually no one is talking about it — not Albertsons nor the federal agency that originally forced the sale. The FTC is mum, stating only that it’s in litigation so it will not give its reasons for the apparent erosion of its earlier order. 

Meantime, as lawsuits work their way through the courts, Albertsons is reopening stores like the one in Ashland, but no date has been named and the employees who once worked there do not appear to be in line for preferential rehiring. 

Albertsons spokesperson Teena Massingill says the Safeway in Ashland is in the process of a major renovation, primarily on the store’s interior and it’s not possible to say how long it will take.

“We are in the very early planning stage for this renovation. Architects and contractors have not been selected. The construction team is in the preliminary design stage. The design is a major factor in establishing a timeline for the renovation," she said. The store will not open back up until the work is done. 

As to the workers at Safeway turned Haggen turned Safeway, Massingill offered only this insight about hiring them back: “Regarding staff, the average store this size is staffed with approximately 75 employees. We will accept applications online soon and all applications will be considered." When asked if former employees might receive their benefits and seniority if hired back, Massingill would not comment. 

A former Safeway cashier who worked at the store for more than 15 years but did not want to be identified because she hopes one day to be re-hired said, “I’ve been doing a lot of crying. It’s just so sad for our store to close and for all of us to be out of jobs we loved. I guess we may have to get jobs somewhere else, but where?”

Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins is a journalism instructor at SOU and author of “Common Miracles: Gifts from a Grateful Universe.” Email her at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.