(June 14) BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. should add westward growth to its strong presence in the Northeast after it acquires the distribution business of Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Markets LLC.

In a deal announced June 11 and expected to close in August, Brattleboro-based C&S Wholesale Grocers plans to buy the three distribution facilities run by Tops, a subsidiary of Ahold USA, Atlanta. By shedding its internal distribution business, Tops will focus on its more than 150 supermarkets and 200 convenience stores and plans to procure product through C&S, officers said.

“C&S is already supplying our stores in the Adirondack region (in northeast New York), so we have an existing relationship with them,” said Stephanie Zakowicz, a spokeswoman for Tops. “But now we’ll be able to focus on our retail operations. By turning over those multiple distribution operations to the experts, they will be able to pass on economies of scale and efficiency we wouldn’t be able to achieve ourselves.”

NORTHEAST PLAYER

C&S Wholesale Grocers, which distributes to about 4,000 stores throughout the Northeast, operates 13 warehouses as far south as Maryland and as far west as eastern Pennsylvania. The acquired facilities include one built in 1950 in Maple Heights, Ohio, and a much larger, 848,000-square-foot facility built in 1996 in Lancaster, N.Y., near Buffalo. The third facility, also near Buffalo, handles frozen products.

Ken Carnevale, vice president of produce and floral for Tops, said C&S will do the buying for Tops in conjunction with Ahold’s perishable procurement program. All of the chain’s buyers should be retained, he said, but their titles and duties will change to focus on category management and merchandising.

EFFECT UNCERTAIN

How the deal might affect suppliers to Tops isn’t something the company wants to comment on before all the details of the deal have been worked out, Carnevale said.

At least one observer in the region says he thinks it could provide a boost to Buffalo produce firms, who in recent years saw much of their Tops business shift down to firms in Cleveland. In 1996, Ahold consolidated two of its subsidiaries, Tops and Cleveland-based Finast Stores.

“I think it might be better for a handful of guys up here,” said Michael Schimenti, a partner in Sunset Fruit & Vegetable Packing Co. Inc., Buffalo. “It’ll be better for us, hopefully.”

Tops was his company’s biggest customer for decades, but that changed after Ahold acquired the chain and modified its purchasing.

Joseph Cavalier, president of The Cavalier-Gulling-Wilson Co. Inc., Cleveland, said he had not heard whether procurement changes were in store.

C&S, meanwhile, could use the Tops deal to launch into further growth.

“Once we have Tops up and running smoothly, there is the potential to grow other business through those new facilities,” said Carl Wistreich, a spokesman for C&S.

In a news release, C&S chief executive officer Rick Cohen said his firm “look(s) forward to growing the business in both western New York and northeast Ohio.”