Stop & Shop Cos. Inc. yesterday rejected a bid by Washington's Haft family to buy the nation's ninth-largest supermarket chain for $840 million.

In a short statement issued after a special meeting of its board, the Boston-based company -- which also owns the Bradlees department store chain -- said that "it is in the best interest of the company and its stockholders to remain independent."

Stop & Shop said it had appointed a special committee of outside directors to study "methods of protecting shareholder values."

A spokesman for the Hafts said the family had no comment on Stop & Shop's action. However, watchers of the Hafts -- who control Dart Group Corp., Crown Books Corp. and Trak Auto Corp. -- said they would not be surprised if the family increased its bid for the company, which now is at $30 a share.

For the past three years, the Hafts have unsuccessfully tried to acquire several large retailers, including Safeway Stores Inc., Supermarkets General Corp. and Dayton Hudson Corp.

In the cases of Safeway and Supermarkets General, the Hafts were outbid by the companies' managements, which bought back the companies' publicly held stock. The Hafts dropped their bid for Dayton Hudson just after the stock market plunged last October and the price of Dayton Hudson stock plummeted. The family lost $70 million in their investment.

The Hafts hold a 3 percent stake -- or about 840,000 shares -- in Stop & Shop, which they bought for about $18 a share.

Despite its rejection of the Hafts' bid yesterday, Stop & Shop may be forced to come up with alternate financial options to keep stockholders happy, financial analysts said yesterday. The reason: the company's stock price has climbed substantially since the Hafts first announced their interest in Stop & Shop two weeks ago.

At that time, the stock was trading at about $20 a share. Yesterday, the stock closed at $31.37 -- more than the Hafts' offering price -- a sign that Wall Street was betting on a takeover or some action by Stop & Shop that would yield a higher price to shareholders.

"It is incumbent on them {Stop & Shop} to realize that the stock was bid up in anticipation of a takeover," said John Kosecoff, a financial analyst with First Manhattan Co.

Options include finding another buyer for the company, taking the company private by buying the publicly held stock, or making the company less attractive by making an acquisition of its own.

Additionally, the company could restructure its finances in some way -- perhaps by selling some operations or leases -- to pay a one-time cash dividend to shareholders.