The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union negotiated a severance package for Shoppers grocery store employees who were laid off due to recent store closings Credit: Photo by Dan Schere

The Shoppers grocery store in North Bethesda’s White Flint Plaza shopping center will close early next year, a spokesman with the grocer’s parent company confirmed Monday.

United Natural Foods (UNFI), the parent company of Shoppers, announced this month that it would close 12 stores across Maryland, including the stores in Wheaton, Takoma Park and North Bethesda.

In an interview Monday, Mike Wilken, a spokesman for UNFI, said all 12 of the stores will close as Shoppers, but some were sold and will reopen as other grocery stores. The White Flint store, he said, was turned over to the shopping center’s landlord, he said, because the company couldn’t find a buyer.

Combined Properties, the landlord, could not be reached for comment Monday.

According to the Maryland Department of Labor’s federal Work Adjustment and Retraining Notification log, there are 56 employees in the White Flint Shoppers. Under the federal WARN Act, companies must give notice of mass layoffs or closures.

Wilken said he wasn’t sure what would happen to the employees, but the company was negotiating with the local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW Local 400.

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“Our labor relations team is working with the local union to figure those things out, but it’s unknown at this time,” Wilken said.

According to a press release from UFCW Local 400, the Wheaton and Takoma Park Shoppers are being sold to the global supermarket chain Lidl, which has its U.S. headquarters in Arlington. There are 81 employees at the Wheaton store and 67 at the Takoma Park store, according to the Department of Labor’s WARN log.

UFCW wrote Dec. 19 that it hopes to “hold UNFI accountable” under its union contract and is demanding “significant severance pay,” health care coverage after store closures, job search assistance and adherence to the collective bargaining agreement. The union is holding a resource fair for Shoppers employees on Jan. 11 in Landover.

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Wilken said the North Bethesda store will begin a liquidation sale on Friday, and the store will close after all remaining goods are sold. He did not have an exact closing date.

“It depends on how fast the wind down goes, so the close date kind of fluctuates,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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