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    Houchens Buying 22-store Buehler Foods

    Feeling the pressure, Indiana-based family-owned indie grocer opts out of the fray.

    Under pressure from larger competitors, Jasper, Ind.-based Buehler Foods, with supermarkets in Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois, inked a deal to sell its 22 stores to Houchens Industries.

    "With the continuing pressures in the retail marketplace, our ongoing need for growth and expansion, and the future of our 1,500-plus associates, a merger with Houchens Industries provides a unique opportunity for our company," said company president Kris Buehler Massat in a news release.

    "The associates of the company and their families will be provided long-term opportunities in a way that today's environment has prevented us from doing," said Massat. She added that the pressure in the market made it increasingly difficult for the regional retailer to compete.

    The transaction should be completed within the next 60 days. Buehler's Buy-Low stores are expected remain open and retain their existing name, and no layoffs are expected, noted Massat.

    According to local press reports, a Buehler Foods office will remain based in Jasper, Ind., and staff at the office will remain involved in the company for a period of time.

    Buehler Foods began in the 1940s by Gabe and Marge Buehler. It changed hands in 2006 after the company was restructured following financial hardships. In May 2005 Buehler Foods and its family of companies -- Buehler, LLC; Buehler of Carolina, LLC; and Buehler of Kentucky, LLC -- filed bankruptcy.

    The late 2004 purchase of 16 Winn-Dixie stores in Kentucky was a financial drain on the company, and was ultimately blamed for its Chapter 11 filing. The Buehler family enterprise emerged from bankruptcy a year later with a new plan that divided the company into two corporations.

    Ownership of Buehler Foods switched from Dave Buehler, the founders' son, to Massat, Dave Buehler's daughter, and her husband, Pete Massat. Dave Buehler became owner of Dave Buehler, Inc., which operates several Save-A-Lot stores.

    Bowling Green, Ky.-based Houchens is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the United States. It operates retail grocery and convenience stores, restaurants, tanning supply and distribution businesses, optical stores, and businesses in construction, paving, trucking, recycling, insurance, manufacturing, Web development, financial services, and property management.

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