Stop & Shop Cos. Inc. said yesterday that it had agreed to be taken over by a group led by a New York investment firm, which could frustrate efforts by Washington's Haft family to buy the Boston-based retailer.

Stop & Shop said its board had accepted a $1.2 billion ($44 a share) leveraged buyout offer from a group led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. The offer for Stop & Shop shares, which will begin Friday, requires that two-thirds of the company's stock be tendered to the KKR group.

The Hafts, through their Dart Group Corp., have offered $1 billion, or $37 a share, for Stop & Shop, which owns the nation's ninth-largest grocery chain and the Bradlees department store chain. Stop & Shop's stock closed at $43.50 yesterday, up 87 1/2 cents, with 1.6 million shares changing hands.

Dart Group yesterday extended its $37-a-share offer for Stop & Shop until March 9. In addition, the company is preparing a response to the buyout offer, a Dart Group spokesman said. The Hafts had no comment on the offer.

Dart Group, which last week called for a special meeting of Stop & Shop's shareholders to consider ousting the company's board, said yesterday it expects to extend the date of its tender offer through the day after the special meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for March 30.

However, a number of financial analysts speculated yesterday that the Hafts will take a profit on their 2.7 percent holding of Stop & Shop stock rather than continue to vie for the company.

Should Robert and Herbert Haft, who also control Trak Auto Corp. and Crown Books Corp., decide to end their 1 1/2-month battle for Stop & Shop and accept the buyout offer, the profit on their stake of 738,200 Stop & Shop shares -- purchased at about $20 a share -- would be $17.7 million.

"I think the Hafts will go to the local haberdashery and buy a white hat and ride off into the sunset," said Harry Wells, an analyst who tracks Stop & Shop for the Boston firm of Adams, Harkness & Hill Inc. "I think they have done a marvelous job of playing the fiddle on this."

Analysts said that if the Hafts decide to drop their offer and sell their shares, it would follow their previous pattern in numerous other unfriendly takeover bids for retail companies, including Dayton Hudson Corp., the nation's sixth-largest operator of department stores; Safeway Stores Inc., the nation's largest supermarket chain; and Supermarkets General Corp.

The Hafts walked away from their offers for Safeway and Supermarkets General after bidding up each company's stock. Management of each company eventually bought back the stock. The Hafts reaped tens of millions of dollars in profits in the process -- although they lost $67 million on their Dayton Hudson holdings when the stock market plummeted last fall.

The Hafts' battle for Stop & Shop has been bitter. Dart's original offer of $30 a share, or about $840 million, was rejected by Stop & Shop's board, as was the improved $37-a-share offer. Stop & Shop filed suit in federal court in Boston, alleging that the Hafts' takeover bid was actually an effort to drive up the stock price.

In an effort to thwart the Hafts, the Stop & Shop board had been negotiating with several parties.