Mississippi family-owned grocery chain – operating since 1969 – sold to Arkansas company
Published 5:30 am Tuesday, October 25, 2022
A Mississippi-based family-owned grocery store chain that started in 1969 has been purchased by an Arkansas company looking to expand.
Springdale-based Harps Food Stores Inc. has entered into a purchase agreement to acquire The Markets, a family-owned business that operates three stores in Louisiana and four in Mississippi.
Harps is a 100% employee-owned company with 135 stores across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Founded in 1930 by Harvard and Floy Harp, the grocery chain employs more than 6,800 workers.
Barry Loy, president of Supermarket Operations in Natchez, said he started punching a time clock at The Big Star on the bypass in Natchez when he was about 15. However, he had worked in the store for his father for years before that.
Loy said he will soon punch out for the last time when he closes the deal with Harps.
“They are a good company,” Loy said. The Loys have an agreement with Harps that will continue the jobs of current employees. Their seniority, vacation time, and benefits will be left intact, Loy said.
“They are hiring all of them. When the deal closes, they will end the day working for us and begin the next day working for Harps. They won’t miss a beat,” Loy said. “Nobody will lose a job if they don’t want to. They need good people, too.”
Barry Loy and his brother, Jeff Loy, vice president and treasurer of the company, are sons of Harley Loy, who founded The Markets. He died in July 2019.
Harley Loy, a native of Arkansas, took over Lewis’s grocery in Natchez in 1969, which became The Big Star.
The Loys and The Markets are known for “paying their civic rent” and being ardent supporters of the communities in which they operate. In addition to three stores in Natchez, the Loys have stores in Ball, Ferriday, Vidalia, Louisiana, and another in McComb.
Barry Loy said they are leaving the company in good hands.
“They are a good company. We had multiple offers, which makes your head swell a little, and Harps Food was the best fit for our community and us,” he said.
Harps is the largest employee-owned company in Arkansas and operates 135 stores in four states — Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas. It is 100 percent owned by its employees, said a press release issued by its Chairman and CEO, Kim Eskew. Harvard and Floy Harp in Springdale, Arkansas founded the company in 1930. It currently employs 6,800 associates.
Loy said the decision to sell the company was bittersweet.
“I grew up in these stores. It was time. We are in great shape. Sales are great. It was just a timing thing for Jeff and me. They always say get out while you are on top. We are kind of at the top of our game,”
Loy and his wife, Sue, have no plans to leave Natchez.
“We have a grandchild coming soon in Baton Rouge and have other grandchildren here. You just aren’t going to get Sue Loy too far away from her grandchildren,” Loy said, although the couple does plan to travel.
“Words can’t express how much we appreciate this community. We have survived when so many others haven’t. Even when the big W came in in 1995, it was all doom and gloom. There were eight grocery stores here then. Three years later, there were just three of us, and it’s because of this community. We appreciate this community so much. Daddy raised us to be tough, and we are still here.”