November 23, 1999

Tops Markets, Inc.,
Attention: Manager
14100 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, Ohio 44107

Dear Sir or Madam:

I live in Lakewood in close proximity to your store as well as the two Giant Eagle stores located on Detroit and Clifton Avenues. All three are equally convenient for me, and I could easily go to either of the Giant Eagle stores for regular shopping and for those "quick stops" on the way home from work. I could, but I don't. I have long been a customer at Finast and continued to be one through the recent change to Tops.

I was thrilled when Finast (Tops) began carrying Morningstar Farm soy products and grew happier with each soy-based or rice milk product added to your inventory. In fact, I buy many of these "specialty" products every week. If you haven't yet surmised it, I'm a vegetarian (for ethical reasons). I am also married to a vegetarian, and we are both between the ages of 25 and 45--target demographics in most businesses.

I am also a realist. I know that no matter how much I wish it were not so, other people are going to continue to eat meat, poultry and seafood. As such, I cannot exactly fault your store for carrying a variety of these slaughtered animal products; you are giving the people what they want. What I can fault you for is your lack of care, thought or compassion to what I'll call (against my own personal preferences) "live food." More precisely, the live lobsters you sell.

On a number of occasions in recent weeks I have been in your store to purchase groceries, and what I found shocked and upset me. I refer to the fact that you have been keeping an inordinate quantity of live lobsters in your tanks. These poor creatures are mounded on top of one another and climbing the tank walls. It is bad enough to see these animals during each store visit knowing they will end up as someone's dinner, but to see the inattentive and inhumane way in which they are living their last days makes me extremely sad and angry.

Indulge me briefly while I give you a quick overview of this member of the crustacean family. If not trapped by humans, American Lobsters can live to be well over a hundred years old and grow to 42 inches long weighing up to 45 pounds. Unfortunately, most are captured in the equivalent of their pre-teen to adolescent years. Normally, they live on the bottom of the ocean burrowing into sand and hiding themselves under rocks to leisurely capture their own food. While the bands on their claws may be put there in part to protect your employees and shoppers, lobsters (who have been seen in nature to lead younger members of their species claw-in-claw through dangerous waters) in close quarters can become cannibalistic and so the bands are put on their claws at the time of capture to prevent them from fighting, killing and eating one another.

I would like to continue shopping at Tops, and provided I see some improvement in the way in which "live food" is kept and handled (preferably eliminated all together) in your store, I will go on doing so. But, if I continue to see this overcrowding and the often murky, dirty water, I will gleefully find another store to patronize.

You may feel free to chalk me up as a crackpot or nut case for my respect for all life and all living being--I'm used to the label. But remember that I am a crackpot who spends a significant amount of money at your store. I shop every week and often buy the more expensive organically grown or more exotic produce and higher priced specialty foods. And, while I may be just one person, I have a lot of friends locally and globally (via the Internet) with whom I would share my concerns and am certain would likewise boycott your store(s).


Leigh-Anne Dennison

UPDATE - Having seen no improvement in the conditions in the Tops' lobster tanks (they are still there and still overcrowded) we have ceased shopping there and are giving our business to Heinen's Fine Foods. While they do offer meat and seafood, we have not observed any "live food" sales. As a bonus, their staff seems much more helpful and thoughtful of customers and their store is a lot cleaner. They also offer an even larger volume and variety of vegetarian/vegan alternatives than our previous supermarkets. [We have stopped shopping at Giant Eagle since they, too, carry live lobsters.]