Supermarket chain Grand Union was once among the top choices in Connecticut for grocery shopping.
But soon, the last store in the state carrying that name will close.
Store closing sales are now in full swing at the Grand Union on Middle Turnpike in the Storrs section of Mansfield near the northern edge of the University of Connecticut’s main campus.
“It’s really a shame,” Paula Lyons, a lifelong Mansfield resident, told me today in the parking lot. “You run out of stuff so you come here. They have all the basics.”
Lyons said she does shop at the larger, Big Y supermarket about five miles away in Tolland. But to pick up a few things, Grand Union has been the place to go.
“Today, I have cat food and toilet paper,” Lyons said. “How basic is that?”
Grand Union faces the prospect of nearby competition from Price Chopper, which has announced plans to open a grocery store in the Storrs Center development. But that store isn’t expected to open until late next year.
It wasn’t clear when the store will close, but the sales are clearing out the shelves.
The store is owned by C&S Wholesale Grocers of Keene, N.H., which wouldn’t comment on the closing. Today, the store manager in Mansfield also declined to comment.
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Just down the road, residents of a trailer park, many of them elderly, are concerned about the closing.
“We are there all the time,” Jim Durdan, who has lived in the trailer park for a decade and in the town for decades, told me today. “We buy a lot of our meat over there. They have good prices. They have good sales.”
Durdan said he and his wife walk to the store in good weather as do some of their neighbors. While Durdan said he also shops at the Big Y, Grand Union is close and good for older residents, who don’t buy groceries in big quantities.
The Grand Union supermarket chain was founded as a single store in 1872 in Scranton, Penn. and grew to become the tenth largest national food store chain by the 1970s with 580 stores in 11 states, 82 of them in Connecticut and New York.
The chain expanded heavily in the 1950s and 1960s, and introduced innovations such as the “Food-O-Mat,” a dispenser for cans, jars and other staples. It worked using gravity: as items were taken by shoppers, the are replaced by others sliding down a ramp.
In the 1950s, Grand Union was the anchor tenant when the southeastern portion of Bishops Corner in West Hartford was built.
But by the late 1970s, Grand Union faced increasing competition from Waldbaum’s and other grocery chains. In the 1990s, Grand Union filed for bankruptcy and tried to reorganize, but in 2001, the company was liquidated and nearly 200 stores were acquired by C&S.
Most of the stores were sold off to competitors. But 30 outlets, according to the C&S web site, remained operating under the Grand Union Family Markets name. Earlier this year, a majority of the remaining Grand Union stores were sold off by C&S, but the sale didn’t include the Storrs location.