Acme Markets told workers this week that it will close five unprofitable Philadelphia-area stores by the end of February, three in South Jersey and two in Pennsylvania - locations that union officials said had been hurt by Wegmans and other competing chains.

The decisions "were made only after careful evaluation and were guided by what is best for Acme's long-term growth and success as a whole," parent company Supervalu Inc. said in a statement.

The sites are in Limerick, Wayne, Cinnaminson, Millville, and Moorestown.

In recent years, Acme, one of the region's oldest supermarket chains, has struggled to reinvent itself as competitors have arrived with stores that sell groceries in new ways. On the higher end, for example, are Whole Foods and Wegmans, with stores popular among gourmets; on the other end are ShopRite, Wal-Mart, and Target, which lure more cost-conscious customers with aggressively low prices.

A top union official blamed bad management at the corporate level for the supermarkets' failure to thrive.

"Unfortunately, it's not a surprise to us," said Wendell Young IV, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, which represents 116 clerks in Wayne and Limerick. "The reason they're closing the stores is because Supervalu is doing a lousy job of running the stores."

The Limerick store was built just a few years ago; Acme shut down a store in nearby Collegeville to drive business to the new one, Young said. But soon afterward, Giant opened a store across the street. Wegmans opened not too far away, as well.

The Collegeville Acme was an older, smaller store, but it was doing OK, Young said. Now Acme will have no supermarkets in that affluent stretch near the Route 422 residential and corporate corridor west of Philadelphia.

Young's counterpart in South Jersey, Sam Ferraino Jr., who represents 129 clerks in Cinnaminson and Moorestown, said competitors also had attacked Acme there.

He wasn't surprised, for example, that the Moorestown store was being shuttered because Wegmans had opened a market across the street a few years ago and quickly scooped up Acme's customers.

"As soon as it opened, [Wegmans] killed them," said Ferraino, president of UFCW Local 1360. "That was the beginning of the end, I'm sorry to say."

In Cinnaminson, Acme vacated an old store and moved to a larger, newer site down the street - only to have a ShopRite open at Acme's old location and do "phenomenal" business, Ferraino said.

Supervalu, based in Minnesota, has been struggling with declining sales and high debt for some time. A few weeks ago, another chain burdened by debt - the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., which owns Super Fresh and Pathmark - declared bankruptcy.

Contact staff writer Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or