Harps Pushes Into Louisiana, Mississippi With Acquisition

Harps Pushes Into Louisiana, Mississippi With Acquisition
Harps Food Store at 2894 W. Sunset Ave in Springdale, which is near the company's corporate headquarters. (Cushman & Wakefield / Sage Partners)

Privately held grocery chain Harps Food Stores Inc. of Springdale will enter Louisiana and Mississippi with the purchase of The Markets, a 53-year-old family owned grocer based in Natchez, Mississippi.

Financial terms of the deal, scheduled to close by the end of the year, were not disclosed.

Harps said the purchase will add seven stores and 350 employees to its 135-store network. The Markets stores are in Ball, Ferriday and Vidalia, Louisiana; and Natchez and McComb, Mississippi.

"We are excited to enter into these new markets for Harps in Louisiana and Mississippi," Harps Chairman and CEO Kim Eskew said in a news release. "The Market stores have served these communities with excellence for many years and we are thrilled to add them to the Harps family."

The Markets is owned by the Loy family through their company, Supermarket Operations Inc. Harley Loy, who grew up on a farm in Arkansas, founded the company in 1969 when he purchased four grocery stores in Mississippi and Louisiana.

In a news release Monday, Loy's sons, Markets President Barry Loy and Vice President and Treasurer Jeff Loy, said Markets store banners, employment and operations will continue "with minimal change or interruption." 

The statement said the two "believe that the company has fulfilled all the dreams and wishes that their father had many years ago." Harley Loy died in July 2019 at age 89.

"We are excited for the new possibilities for growth and success that Harps can bring to our stores," Barry Loy said. "We wish Harps and The Markets team members many years of success."

Founded in 1930, Harps is the largest employee-owned company in Arkansas, with 6,800 employees at stores in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas. 

Harps is also among the state's largest private companies, at No. 12 on Arkansas Business' most recent ranking in June with $1.18 billion in 2021 revenue, up 16.5% from the previous year.

Harps President J. Max Van Hoose told Arkansas Business on Tuesday that The Markets deal is among four major acquisitions the company has completed since 2020. Once The Markets deal is done in December, Harps will have added a net 50 stores since the pandemic year.

Van Hoose, who has been with Harps since 1997, was named president in January. He oversees store development, acquisitions, construction and real estate.

While the acquisitions occurred around the time of the pandemic, Van Hoose said some were in the works before COVID hit, in March 2020. And while grocery stores were stressful to manage in the pandemic, most performed well as more people ate meals at home, he said.

"But also it just happened that some of those were all operators who didn't have heirs that wanted to continue to operate in the stores," he said. "And so they were just looking at moving away from ownership."

Van Hoose said the brothers who operated The Markets felt like now was a good time to sell, and that the two companies were a good fit culturally. Harps plans to retain The Market branding, he said.

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