The struggling Tidyman’s supermarket chain announced on Tuesday that it is selling off its eight remaining stores, bringing to an end a name familiar to local shoppers for nearly 40 years.
McGregor’s LLC is purchasing the Dissmore’s IGA owned by Tidyman’s in Pullman. Buttes and Bluffs Markets is buying the company’s County Market in Sidney, Mont., a Tidyman’s news release said.
Mike Davis, president and CEO for Spokane-based Tidyman’s, said the grocery chain is negotiating the sale of its last six stores, but because of confidentiality issues he declined to name potential buyers.
Part of the proceeds from the sales will be distributed among employee shareholders, who, under an employee stock ownership plan, own 60 percent of Tidyman’s LLC.
Stores under negotiation include the Latah store, off U.S. Highway 195, the Sprague Avenue and McDonald Road locations in Spokane Valley and the Post Falls supermarket, on Seltice Way. Montana stores in Kalispell, Great Falls and Billings are also for sale.
Executives for companies that could be candidates to purchase one or more locations declined to comment, including Mike Shirts of Rosauers Supermarkets Inc. and Paul Matejovsky of Cheney Trading Co. Food Store and Boundary Trading Co. Executives for Yoke’s Fresh Markets and URM Stores Inc. were out of the office. The media relations department for Supervalu Inc., which owns 40 percent of Tidyman’s and also has ownership in Albertson’s Inc., is located in Minnesota and was closed.
Debbie Langton, secretary-treasurer for United Food and Commercial Workers Union 1439, said although Tidyman’s wasn’t a union store, her office has been getting phone calls from employees worried about their jobs.
However, she believes the three Inland Northwest stores are attractive buys for other grocers, who could retain many of the workers.
“I think those stores are very profitable. Those are probably the only stores they had left that are profitable,” Langton said.
Tidyman’s is one of several local grocery chains that are owned by employees under an ESOP plan. However, Langton said the Tidyman’s employee ownership agreement was less defined and offered less protection than, say, the ESOP plan at Rosauers Supermarkets.
It’s too early to say how much money the employees will receive for their shares, Davis said. The outcome relies on a variety of factors including debt and proceeds from the sale of property. He expects that it will take a year or so to finalize the payout to employees.
“What the return will be, we really can’t speculate on that because obviously we really have a lot of (variables),” Davis said.
In 1998, Tidyman’s merged with Supervalu Inc. and added County Market stores in Montana and Dissmore’s IGA in Pullman. At the time, the Tidyman’s company operated 21 stores in Washington, Montana and Idaho.
But in 1999, the company lost a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by two former employees who said that Tidyman’s paid them less than their male counterparts and denied them promotions because they were female. A federal jury imposed a $6.2 million judgment against the chain, which lacked the proper insurance to buffer the financial impact, Davis has said.
When the stores sell, employees who retain their jobs may end up starting over as far as vacation, benefits and even salary go, Langton said, although union stores would credit workers for their years of grocery experience at Tidyman’s.
Davis is hopeful that the sale of the stores will result in more money being paid to the employee owners. Plus, he said, the potential buyers have expressed a strong interest in keeping the employees, who are experienced and are familiar faces to shoppers.
“I’m very confident that the retailers we’re working with are very community- and customer-service-minded. We feel good about the potential of those transactions.”
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