retail news in context, analysis with attitude

In Massachusetts, the Herald News reports that Portsmouth, RI-based Clements Marketplace, a single-store independent, is doubling its size with the acquisition of Lees Market in Westport, Massachusetts.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed. Clements only is buying the supermarket part of the store; Albert E. Lees III said his company will keep the wine and liquor store that is part of the unit.

The story notes that the two companies have some history together: Don Clement worked at Lees Market as a general manager for a decade, and when Lees decided to sell, it was to another independent as opposed to a chain.
KC's View:
At this moment, many of you are wondering why I've chosen to report on what seems like an insignificant transaction involving two relatively unknown companies.

I have a reason.

Lees Market was started in 1949 by Lees' father and grandfather. His dad, Al Lees Jr., was a well-known figure within the US independent grocery sector for many years - iconoclastic, smart, and intensely loyal to his community, customers and employees. He also was my friend; I've often written of a dinner that I had once at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Napa, with Lees and his good friend, fellow independent Marv Imus, in which they frankly and funnily addressed the challenges facing the independent sector. (I called it "Dining With Dinosaurs" when I wrote the piece for a magazine. Typically, they loved the characterization. If you're interested, you can read a reprint of the piece here.)

Here's one of the enduring memories of my career. When Al Lees Jr. died in 2004, I went to his funeral. Afterwards, the procession moved to a cemetery about two miles away. In doing so, it passed the store and out front, dozens of employees stood, holding hands and a banner that said, in essence, Thank You, Mr. Lees. We Love You & Miss You. But You Will Live On Through Us.

I'm sad that the Lees family is getting out of the supermarket business. But I'm glad I got to know the family, and glad that a like-minded independent is taking over the store.