Sonoma County’s G&G Supermarkets purchased by Safeway
G&G Supermarkets, a landmark family-owned Sonoma County grocery business for over a half century, has been purchased by Safeway stores, the two companies said Thursday.
Pleasanton-based Safeway has agreed to hire all 250 G&G employees from the company’s Santa Rosa and Petaluma stores at “the same compensation or better,” said G&G CEO Teejay Lowe.
The exact date for the change in business has yet to be announced, but the deal should be completed by the end of the year, Lowe said. Each store will be renamed Safeway.
G&G workers at both locations learned of the sale Thursday morning in meetings with Safeway and company officials.
Terms of the sale were not disclosed.
Safeway officials did not respond to questions about the impact of the purchase on their existing stores near the G&G properties, including the Safeway on Marlow Road in Santa Rosa and the store on South McDowell Boulevard in Petaluma.
“We are very excited about this opportunity and look forward to bringing these locations into the Northern California Safeway family,” Safeway said in a statement confirming the sale.
The two companies “are working together to ensure a smooth transition for store employees and customers,” Safeway said in the statement. “Each store will be closed for a short period of time once the transaction closes, which we anticipate will be sometime in December.”
A sale of the G&G markets had been rumored in recent months as empty space appeared on shelves and longtime patrons openly questioned checkers about a possible closure.
Lowe insisted “business has been strong” and suggested the sale’s timing was partly related to the age of the company’s four owners, all members of the Gong family, including his father, Robert Gong, and his three uncles. The four owners range from 65 to 83 years old.
“It’s a good time for them to retire,” Lowe said. “They’ve been serving Sonoma County for 53 years. It’s a good time for them to enjoy the holidays.”
Of the sale, he added, “It was a decision that the entire family supports.”
The agreement also will benefit current employees, Lowe maintained, not only by preserving their compensation but also by offering them new opportunities with a larger grocery company.
“This deal checked all boxes,” he said.
G&G was founded in 1963 by Robert Gong and his late father-in-law, Gee Kai Gong. The company operates a 96,000-square-foot supermarket on West College Avenue and a 55,000-square-foot store on Sonoma Mountain Parkway in east Petaluma.
Safeway is owned by Albertsons Companies Inc. of Boise, Idaho, one of the largest food and drug retailers in the United States.
In Sonoma County, G&G has been the epitome of a family-operated company. At one point, close to ?25 relatives worked for G&G, Lowe said. Even today he works with six family members who are either siblings or cousins.
Marcus Benedetti, president/CEO of Petaluma-based Clover Stornetta Farms, said one distinction about G&G was that for years; the Gong family members would gather together for lunch each day at the Santa Rosa store. Another was that the store’s male workers for decades wore ties and one owner, upon meeting Benedetti, then a teenager, wanted to know why the young man wasn’t wearing one when delivering milk to the store.
G&G proved itself a successful business, he said, and in the 1980s and early 1990s “moved more merchandise than any other retailer I’m aware of” for a single store.
Benedetti called Safeway “a great operator” for a chain, but he added that the community nonetheless was losing an icon.
“It’s not the same as having an independent, multi-generational family operating those stores,” he said.
Both employees and shoppers Thursday voiced the notion that an era was ending.
“To me it’s just a sad day that we’re losing G&G,” said bakery manager Jim Caperton, who was hired by Robert Gong in 1999. He said he plans to work for Safeway and hopes his new employer will allow the store to keep producing some of its signature items, including pork buns and Peking duck.
The sadness also was felt by 17-year store veteran Johnny Velasquez, but he added, “I’m glad I was here to the very end.”
Velasquez, the head of the grocery department, said it mattered that G&G’s owners had won Safeway’s agreement to hire all of both stores’ employees.
“It’s great that that was worked into the deal and that they were thinking of us,” he said.
On Thursday morning, shopper Rose Lombella learned of the sale personally from Santa Rosa store director and Gong family member Carol Lowe-Drake, a fitting touch for someone who had patronized G&G at three different sites for over half a century.