Vt. firm eyes sites for warehouse


A Vermont grocery supplier is scouting various sites in the Baltimore area for a potential $50 million distribution operation that could employ as many as 400 people.

C&S; Wholesale Grocery Inc., a closely held Brattleboro, Vt., firm with annual sales of about $2 billion, intends to either occupy or develop as much as 1 million square feet of warehouse space in a single mammoth building, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

At that size, the building would be roughly equivalent to the 30-story Commerce Place and the 35-story USF&G; Tower skyscrapers downtown combined. By direct comparison, C&S;' distribution requirement is three times larger than a $20 million McCormick & Co. Inc. warehouse under construction in Harford County that will cover nearly nine acres.

"We have been looking around in that area, and our base of business is expanding geographically, but we don't have any definite plans that I can comment on at this time," said Kim Keyes, a C&S; spokeswoman.

Although states such as Virginia and Pennsylvania are also under consideration, C&S; is focusing on Maryland in order to be within 75 miles of Washington, D.C., sources said. At this juncture, the company has viewed sites in every county in the Baltimore metropolitan area, ranging from Howard and Carroll counties to the west and Cecil County to the northeast.

C&S;' search is being precipitated by a need to both ship goods to Florida for discounter BJ's Wholesale Club, and because C&S; is preparing to fulfill a contract to supply Wal-Mart Stores Inc. grocery outlets in the Mid-Atlantic region, Ms. Keyes confirmed. C&S; currently distributes from its home base inVermont.

The contract with the Bentonville, Ark.-based chain is in addition the more than 900 retailers and military bases already serviced by C&S;, mostly in New England.

"They've undergone a lot of growth, because in their service area up north, they're the only ones up there," said Denis R. Zegar, president and chief executive of the Mid-Atlantic Food Dealers, an industry trade association.

In the past six years, for instance, sales at C&S; -- the largest privately held firm in Vermont -- have risen 157 percent. At the same time, the number of C&S;' employees has jumped just as dramatically, to its present level of 1,700.

If C&S; does bring its plan to enter the Mid-Atlantic market to fruition, it would represent the latest major grocery supplier to establish a distribution network in or near Maryland. The nation's three largest grocery distributors, Fleming Cos. Inc., Supervalu Inc. and Richfood, all have significant operations regionally.

While C&S; also is entertaining the idea of buying or leasing existing local buildings -- including Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc.'s 1 million-square-foot headquarters and distribution center in the Joppa section of Harford County -- it is concentrating on developing a new building because there are so few structures of that size available.

As a result, the 61-year-old firm is searching to purchase up to 150 acres of developable land for its planned 1 million-square-foot operation, enough acreage to accommodate a projected 2,500 tractor-trailer trucks daily.

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