The Uni-Mart and Choice convenient store chain announced the Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 29, 2008. That leaves more than 280 stores up for sale and some workers in central Pennsylvania are worried about their jobs.
Uni-Mart officials said there are more than 1,200 employees in the convenience store chain.
In 2006, the company expanded into Ohio by acquiring a handful of BP stations in the Youngstown, Ohio area. The company switched the convenience stores to Uni-Mart in 2007 but continue to sell BP gasoline, a stark contrast to Uni-Mart's in other markets that mainly sell their own brand of gasoline. This isn't the first time that Uni-Mart marketed other gasoline: during most of the 1990s, Uni-Mart's were cobranded with Getty, and several Pennsylvania stations sold Exxon right up to the bankruptcy; the corporate website also notes that some sell Sunoco.
According to local reputation in central Pennsylvania, the tricolor red-blue-orange motif used in Uni-Mart's logo and signage is a direct reference to the flag of Armenia, a tribute to the heritage of the company's founder.
Uni-Mart is following a growing industry trend, initiated by the major oil companies, where ownership of convenience stores and gas stations is put in the hands of individual dealers and operators who are able to set their own margins and purchase their own merchandise. Uni-Mart is also targeting minority populations.
NRI (non-resident Indian) Raj Vakharia was born in Rajkot, Gujarat and came to the United States in 1976 to attend Long Island University, where he earned a master's degree in business administration. He also has a law degree from the University of Saurashtra. Vakharia, who lives in Colonia, N.J., has also served as New Jersey's assistant state treasurer for New Jersey in Governor James McGreevey’s administration for one and half year , has resigned from the position to return to his finance and investment-banking career on Wall Street. He was the first Asian-Indian to hold such a high treasury post.
Vakharia bought Uni-Mart in July, 2004. According to Vakharia, his plan going into his purchase of Uni-Mart was to sell stores to individual operators.
In 2004, the owners were solicited through booklets and seminars to buy 225 convenience stores. The suit says information owners received "contained serious omissions and representations."
"In particular, the company allegedly misled owners about critical costs to operate the stores, misstating or neglecting to mention how much payroll, maintenance, taxes and insurance would be."
The company is also said to have overcharged owners for gasoline, in violation of agreements.
The Little Valley, NY-based Pirshlo, Inc. conglomerate, which owned the New York cluster of Uni-Marts (and a handful in northern Pennsylvania), was forced to shut down its entire cluster in August 2007, after Pirshlo owner Lloyd Long was convicted of tax evasion. Uni-Mart is in the process of taking over the former Pirshlo cluster and re-opening the stores.