Haggen market puts Ashland on closure list

The Haggen market on Ashland’s Siskiyou Boulevard will close sometime around Thanksgiving, the corporation has announced, only a half-year after taking over the location from Safeway.

The much-ballyhooed takeover of Safeway and Albertsons stores last March in California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington rocketed Haggen holdings from 18 to 164 stores and quintupled its employees to more than 10,000.

The Federal Trade Commission, seeking to prevent a monopoly, required Albertsons to shed the stores as it merged with Safeway. But the new Haggen empire folded quickly, with Haggen suing Albertsons for $1 billion, charging unfair competition.

Haggen announced 27 store closures in mid-August and filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Sept. 8. The company announced this week it was exiting the Southwest market and would focus on 37 stores in the Northwest, putting another 100 stores on closure notice. Ashland won't be one of the remaining 37 locations.

“I’m not surprised, said Dan Doggington, a clerk at the Ashland Haggen. “It’s a Wall Street issue and we’re victims of it. I’m seeking work in Central Point, at a store. It’s hard here because this is a family of people inside this store.”

Checker Linda Levizon said, “I feel sad for myself and everyone here. I found a job at BiMart already and gave my notice here.”

“I have a lot of mixed feelings," said deli clerk Melissa Ward. "It feels like being kicked out of your parents’ home. I’ll be going into WorkSource in Medford to see what they have for jobs. There’s no severance pay for us. The turnover (to Haggen) was really hard. They were far away, in Washington, and had a hard time getting stuff to us.”

Managers of the store — and a Haggen spokeswoman in Portland — declined comment, but workers said there had been interested buyers in the store.

Haggen gave 60 days' notice to employees at the closing stores, as required by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN). It has asked the Bankruptcy Court to lift restrictions on Haggen workers being hired by Albertsons, according to a news release on the Haggen website. The stores will remain open during that period, with Haggen asking court permission to have a store closing sale.

Ashland’s curved-top Safeway store had been operating for many decades and was the oldest big market in Ashland. It was noted for affordable prices, central location and in recent years, its growing organic sections. Haggen, which started in Bellingham in 1933, branded itself as buying local produce and selling some organic produce, with an eye to the higher-end market.

In its suit, Haggen claimed Albertsons used its knowledge of Haggen’s transition timing to out-compete the buyer with specials and coupons — and gave it false information on pricing so that when Haggen opened customers saw the same items with higher prices. Albertsons sued Haggen for $41 million for not paying for some inventory it got with the stores.

Two stores in Klamath Falls and one in Grants Pass were among the stores listed when Haggen announced the 27 planned closures in August.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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