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    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    What going on with Stop & Shop? Is it hiring, closing or both?

    A trio of job openings hit simultaneously at Stop & Shop's supermarket just over the Clinton line from Hammonasset Beach State Park, as the chain looks to hire help for its produce section and meat and seafood counters, along with an assistant manager. And they're not alone, as a number of Stop & Shop grocery stores around the state have job openings they're trying to fill.

    But what about the cadre of trained employees already working for Connecticut Stop & Shop stores that could close in the coming months as the chain looks to downsize? Job opportunities within the company may still be open in other stores should they get pink slips down the road — or not, if the company is successful hiring new workers for those now open positions.

    As Ahold Delhaize USA prepares to shutter an unknown number of Stop & Shop supermarkets in the Northeast, the chain has given no indication of whether it plans to institute any hiring freeze at its 400 stores, or if it has already done so at select locations. Any such move could preserve some job openings, in the event of layoffs among workers at nearby stores who could put in for transfers to keep their Stop & Shop careers intact if they choose.

    Stop & Shop spokeswoman Stephanie Cunha said the new job postings reflect "current and specific needs" that are keeping Stop & Shop in active hiring mode at select stores in Connecticut and other states.

    "Like other major retailers, we have an ongoing demand for part-time talent," Cunha said, as the company's response.

    Cunha asked and left unanswered, however, the question of whether Stop & Shop has considered offering more hours to part-time employees as an alternative to filling new jobs in the short-term; and whether it has any policy in place or under development on hiring in stores that end up designated for closure.

    Any such scenario could leave new hires in the lurch, barring any behind-the-scenes agreement or policy in place putting those individuals at the top of the list of candidates for transfers to other stores with openings.

    New job postings at some stores, old postings at others

    At 45 of its 86 Connecticut stores as of Thursday, Stop & Shop listed active openings for jobs that it has posted this year. While all but one of the rest of its Connecticut stores have 2023 job openings still listed on its website, in about 20 instances the most recent openings for those stores date back to last June.

    Stop & Shop listed just over 600 open positions in all of Connecticut as of Thursday — the vast majority for part-time help — including 18 in Old Saybrook and more than a dozen at the Clinton store, an Amity Road location in New Haven and its Hamden store five miles east on Dixwell Avenue. On its website, Stop & Shop does not specify whether the company is looking to fill more than one position for any one open job function it lists.

    Among the 20 stores where no new jobs are open that have been posted in nearly a year or more, roles run the gamut from a full-time "asset protection" position at Stop & Shop's Villa Avenue store in Fairfield, to part-time clerks at its Farmington Avenue store in West Hartford. Stop & Shop's Killingly store is the lone location where the chain did not list any job openings as of Thursday.

    So does an absence of newly posted job openings equate to stores that could be candidates for closure, or is it indicative of any suspension of hiring otherwise, to leave positions available for internal candidates to move into nearby stores that will soon be shuttered? Stop & Shop is not saying for now.

    Like other employers, Stop & Shop's career page does not list jobs posted this year that have already been filled, leaving open the possibility that the company has been actively filling jobs at some of those locations in the past few months that no longer appear on its website.

    Of the supermarkets with no open jobs posted this year, a Stop & Shop on Pitkin Road in Vernon is located only about a mile from one on Windsorville Road in the town's Rockville district that has posted four job openings since mid-May. The Pitkin Road store lies in a heavily traveled triangle between Routes 83 and 30, in a plaza that's not nearly as busy as the one across the state highway with a ShopRite grocery store. The store on Windsorville Road, meanwhile, sits near the Ellington border and has not much competition with other supermarkets in the vicinity in either town.

    Elsewhere in Connecticut, each of the Stamford, Fairfield and Bristol Stop & Shop stores are situated between two and three miles apart. They also have no positions open or posted since last June. The same scenario exists for the chain's West Hartford stores on Farmington Avenue and Newington Road, situated less than four miles apart; two Norwalk Stop & Shop stores that are within an easy drive of locations in Darien and Wilton; and the Hamden store and one in North Haven.

    Several more Stop & Shop locations in Connecticut have no job openings posted this year that are in a slightly wider orbit of other locations that have been advertising new opportunities. That list includes a Stop & Shop on Newtown Road in Danbury and stores in Manchester, Rocky Hill, Groton and Stonington. The Stonington store is located in the town's Pawcatuck district, less than three miles from a Stop & Shop in Westerly, R.I., which posted newly available jobs the past few months.

    Add in stores that are beyond five miles distant from other Stop & Shop locations, and the list grows longer of stores with no new job postings this year. In that group are Stop & Shop supermarkets on Main Street in Bridgeport and East Town Road in Milford; and stores in East Haven, Middletown, Cromwell, Farmington, Bloomfield, Watertown, Waterford, Norwich and Putnam.

    The only guidance Stop & Shop has provided for any decisions on store closures is a general reference to "under-performing" locations, without stating whether that is based on revenue, costs in the form of leases or labor, competition or any other factors.

    Also an open question is any priority Stop & Shop may have in keeping stores open in close proximity to each other in urban areas, where some residents choose not to own a vehicle or prefer walking, biking or taking public transportation to the store. Another potential consideration is stores that are in locations like Newtown, New Milford, East Hampton, Canaan and Windham, which are anywhere from 10 to 18 miles distant from the next nearest Stop & Shop, though competing with other supermarkets in their local markets.

    Competition for new hires, customers

    On the competitive front, Connecticut has seen an ongoing influx of new supermarkets, headlined by Wegmans' choice of Connecticut Avenue in Norwalk for its first supermarket in the state, undeterred by an impressive mix of the Northeast grocery industry, including Stop & Shop.

    In Norwalk and bordering Darien, New Canaan, Wilton and Westport, Stop & Shop already faces stiff competition in the form of Stew Leonard's, ShopRite, Costco, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, The Fresh Market, CTown, Key Food, Acme Markets, Target and Walmart, along with independent or niche grocers like Balducci's, Cranbury Market IGA, Walter Stewart's Market, Village Market and Rowayton Market.

    Competition is likewise fierce in Danbury and neighboring Brookfield and Bethel, where Stop & Shop is up against most of the larger chains, as well as Aldi, BJ's Wholesale Club, Caraluzzi's, Price Rite and smaller chains or independents like La Placita Bethel Market. In late May, Big Y World Class Market opened a new store in Brookfield as well; the company listed 14 roles with available openings as of Thursday in Brookfield, after indicating in March it would need to fill more than 100 jobs there.

    While Stop & Shop gets a below-average score on average from current or former workers on Indeed's "work wellbeing" surveys, Ahold Delhaize USA is considered a model employer on other fronts. In Connecticut, the company has worked extensively with agencies that line up jobs for people with learning disabilities, and with organizations working to reduce food waste.

    And during a strike five years ago that left Connecticut managers scrambling to provide customer service, Stop & Shop adopted a corporate policy of not impeding union workers who picketed on sidewalks in front of stores. Ahold Delhaize reported taking a hit to its results as high as $100 million as a result of the Stop & Shop strike.

    In 2022, the company reached a new labor agreement that runs through 2026 with the Westport-based United Food and Commercial Worker's Union Local 371 and UFCW Local 919 based in Farmington. Wage increases amount to $3 an hour or more for most positions over the duration of the agreement.

    Union leaders could not be reached immediately for information on any feedback from Ahold Delhaize USA or Stop & Shop on future store closures.

    On the first Monday of June when Stop & Shop posted the assistant manager job opening in Clinton, the same job opening surfaced at Stop & Shop stores in Madison, Colchester, Montville and South Windsor. If employees have opportunities to jump ship in a still-hot job market, opportunities remain at Stop & Shop as well — but against the uncertainty of how the store consolidation will shake out in the coming weeks or months.

    "Stop & Shop offers flexible schedules to meet the needs of our associates as well as a robust career advancement program that enables associates to build and advance their careers within the company," the Stop & Shop statement from Cunha said. "In addition to promoting from within, we also value and embrace the diversity and unique leadership that external candidates bring to our organization."

    Includes prior reporting by Luther Turmelle.

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