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Boys Markets in Talks to Buy Alpha Beta : Negotiations: An accord would let American Stores comply with an antitrust agreement that stems from its purchase of Lucky Stores in 1988.

February 27, 1991|STUART SILVERSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The parent of Southern California's Alpha Beta supermarkets is negotiating to sell all or part of the grocery chain to the owners of Boys Markets, a state official said Tuesday.

Executives of American Stores, which agreed to sell Alpha Beta under an antitrust settlement reached with the California Attorney General in May, will meet with state officials on Thursday to discuss their plans.

It could not be determined how close American Stores and Yucaipa Cos., the Claremont-based investors that own Boys and other supermarket chains, have come to an agreement. But H. Chester Horn Jr., a deputy California attorney general, said the Thursday meeting marks the first time American Stores executives have "felt that things are far enough along" that they need to update the Attorney General's Office on the negotiations.

Horn said American Stores officials will talk with a group of officials headed by Sanford Gruskin, an assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust section. Horn said Yucaipa executives also have been in touch with state officials about the negotiations, but he did not expect them to attend this week's meeting.

Under an agreement reached with then-California Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp in May, American Stores pledged to sell 152 Alpha Beta supermarkets and nine Lucky stores within five years. Van de Kamp had sued American Stores after the Salt Lake City-based company bought Lucky Stores for $2.5 billion in 1988 and sought to merge it with Alpha Beta to create what would have been the biggest grocery chain in Southern California.

Attorneys for the state contended that the proposed merger would have reduced competition, costing California consumers $200 million a year in higher prices.

After failing in its initial efforts to sell Alpha Beta, American announced in October that it would make "a significant capital investment" in the chain to spruce it up and help attract a buyer.

Yucaipa, which reportedly balked at American Stores' initial asking price for Alpha Beta, owns about 60 supermarkets in Southern California. Along with Boys Markets, the low-profile, privately held firm owns Market Basket and Viva supermarkets.

Officials of American Stores and Yucaipa declined to comment.

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