retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has a front page piece about John A. Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of the Gristedes supermarket chain who also happens to be a candidate for the Republican nomination to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York.

Before he can realize his political ambitions, the story says, "Mr. Catsimatidis must first confront the public’s often-strained relationship with the company for which he is best known: Gristedes, the unloved uncle of the New York City grocery scene.

"Garishly lighted, expensively priced and home to a dusty décor that several Yelp users have labeled 'depressing,' Gristedes has suffered mightily in the face of flashier rivals like Whole Foods. Sales are down, stores have closed, and the company has paid out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits over allegations of unfair labor practices and consumer safety violations."

The piece notes that Catsimatidis seems to have a love-hate relationship with the chain. He says he is deeply sentimental about the company and sometimes describes himself as a grocer, and yet prefers to emphasize his other business holdings - which account for the vast majority of his wealth - when discussing his qualifications for the mayor's job.

The entire piece can be read here.
KC's View:
I must confess that I'm a day late in recommending this story to you; because I again was in Portland, Oregon, and had to catch an early plane back east, MNB got done very early and I missed the Catsimatidis piece.

It is a very good story, and not just because I'm quoted in it. (I got off a pretty good line about Gristedes, I must admit.)

If I were a New York City voter, I would want to consider what the Gristedes story says about how Catsimatidis feels about issues like competitiveness and investment ... because the chain is one of the least competitive specimens I've ever seen, with little evidence that ownership and management wanted to make it do anything other than occupy real estate. (Catsimatidis says he keeps the chain open in order to make sure that all of its employees keep their jobs, but I'm not sure he's really doing anybody any favors in the long run.)

This is a guy, after all, whose idea of a bold initiative is to bring the World's Fair back to New York. (Really?)

Remember the piece from earlier this week that differentiated between attackers (who want to change the world and upset the status quo) and defenders (who want to protect the way things are by hedging bets and minimizing risk)? Well, by this definition of things, Gristedes is defending a way of doing business that is well on its way to obsolescence.

As for Catsimatidis ... well, that's not the way I'd want a company run if I had any money invested in it, and it is not how I'd want my city run if I were a resident.

Then again ... he's worth $3 billion. My net worth is ... a little shy of that. So maybe I'm the wrong guy to be giving him business advice.