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    COMPETITIVE WATCH: Tops Markets

    Grocer plans a new concept c-store and gas station.

    LOCKPORT, N.Y. -- Grocery chain Tops Markets presented a concept plan for a gas station to be located across the road from one of its franchised stores here, reported the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal.

    Tops Markets owner Philip Perna approached the town's Planning Board with a concept for Tops Express, a convenience store and gas station, which could be built across the road from the current Tops Market store.

    "If this is not something you think will fit, we will be able to walk away now without investing money and with no hard feelings," Perna told the board.

    While the company did not intend to venture into the gasoline retailing business, the introduction of the chain's Gas Rewards program 18 months ago changed his mind. The program rewards customers with points that can be used for discounts on gasoline at Tops' gas stations, the report stated.

    "Unless there is a fuel facility, it doesn't do the customer much good," Perna told the paper. Tops gas locations are located in Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda, N.Y., according to Perna.

    The Lockport Tops Market location opened in 1996. At that time, Perna was told it was possible to build a gas station near the store with permission from other local retail tenants. However, approval comes at a price.

    "They were asking for $300,000 cash," Perna said.

    The concept c-store and gas station plans for a 1,089-square-foot convenience store and gas station with more of a local feel than its other stations, the report stated. The store's design is modeled after the Hamilton House, a local building in the area, with a red brick facade with gray and white accents. The store's sign is placed in the center of the building above the front entrance, and parking is located at the front of the store, the paper reported.

    Robert Dollman, of TRM Architects, explained the store took extra pains to make a more interesting building design.

    "We're trying to give it something other than a box," Dollman told the paper.

    One feature of the concept that is a departure from typical c-store design is the placement of the gas island behind the store. The canopy above the pumps is similar to the white-and-red structures at other stations, but also features an asphalt shingle roof to match the Tops Express store.

    The possibility of the store hinges on the board's approval of the site. While the preliminary concept that was unveiled at the meeting was not given approval, Tops Markets will have to provide more information to the board, including an aerial picture of the site and a more detailed drawing of the site and sites nearby.

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