Genuardi's supermarkets in Egg Harbor and Barnegat townships are being offered for sale, a spokesman for Safeway Inc., the parent company, said Thursday.

Giant Food Stores will purchase most of the Genuardi's Family Markets supermarket chain and convert 16 of the stores in Pennsylvania to its own brand, both companies announced. The two local stores are not part of that deal, Safeway spokesman Greg TenEyck said.

"This will be the end of Genuardi's," a 27-store chain in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, TenEyck said Thursday. "Between now and (final sale), it's business as usual at the stores. They will remain open and continue to operate until a buyer can be found."

Safeway decided to exit the Philadelphia market to concentrate on areas of the country where it has a stronger presence, TenEyck said. The company, headquartered in Pleasanton, Calif., has about 128 stores in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, D.C., but has a stronger presence in the western part of the country.

Of the stores not included in the Giant deal, Pennsylvania stores in Norristown, Exton and Royersford will close, TenEyck said. The other eight supermarkets, including those in Egg Harbor Township and Barnegat, are being offered for sale. The other two New Jersey Genuardi's stores are in Evesham Township, Burlington County, and Cherry Hill, Camden County.

Safeway will work with the buyers to make a smooth transition and will try to keep as many employees as possible, Steve Neibergall, president of Safeway's Eastern Division, said in a statement. The purchase is expected to close within six months.

The Genuardi's on Bay Avenue in Barnegat opened in November 1999. The Egg Harbor Township store opened in February 2001 in what was then a new shopping center on Fire Road. At the time, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1358 picketed the store, claiming Genuardi's pays lower wages than unionized supermarkets.

Christopher Brand, a spokesman for Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant Food Stores, said Thursday that he could not discuss the details of the sale or why the New Jersey Genuardi's stores were not included.

Giant did have a short presence in the region, when a Super G market opened in May 2003 at Jimmie Leeds and Pitney roads in Galloway Township. It later became a Stop & Shop, another subsidiary of parent company Ahold USA. That store closed, and ShopRite took over the space in October 2007.

Shoppers at the Egg Harbor Township Genuardi's on Thursday afternoon said it is a convenient location with friendly employees. How they feel about losing Genuardi's depends on what will take its place.

"I'm sad," said Margaret Mower, of Northfield. "Everybody was helpful here. If you ask where something is, they take you there," and not leave you to find it on your own.

Mower said Genuardi's is close to her home and has good prices.

"I don't want it to change. I'm here all the time," said Erin Lichtenwalner, of Egg Harbor Township. "This is my third time here this week."

Lichtenwalner said Genuardi's employees are always friendly, and she likes the fact that the company makes a concerted effort to hire people with disabilities.

"The only thing that would make me happier is if a Wegman's or a Whole Foods bought it," she said.

Genuardi's is close to home, "and they have really good meat here," said Amy Lotz, of Northfield.

"I hope they make it a ShopRite, because ShopRite has better prices and the ShopRites in the area are very crowded," Lotz added.

Jean Prescott, of Egg Harbor Township, said she just hopes the store remains open, in whatever form.

"As long as it's not closing. We need a place to shop here," Prescott said. "There are a lot of apartments over here where people walk over," and many of the residents don't have cars.

Dean Shissias, of Egg Harbor Township, said he usually shops at the ShopRite in Somers Point for better prices but came to Genuardi's to pick up a few items he forgot on his last trip.

"I wouldn't miss it terribly," Shissias said. "But it's a nice center, a beautiful location."

Contact Elaine Rose:

609-272-7217