Winn-Dixie to close Greenville store

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Winn-Dixie Marketplace will close on Aug. 20, 2005, leaving the future of 70 employees in question, and yet another empty "big box" building on Interstate 65.

The chain announced Tuesday it will cease operations in four southern states, and close 326 of its 913 stores.

The Greenville store is one of them.

Some 22,000 people companywide will lose their jobs.

The company said it will try to find buyers for the closing stores and ask the new owners to retain as many employees as possible.

In a statement, Winn-Dixie also said it will try to sell six dairy plants, its pizza plant in Montgomery, and its Chek Beverage/Deep South Products plant in Fitzgerald, Ga., which produces Chek soda, shelf-stable juices and condiments.

If buyers are not found, Winn-Dixie said it would continue to operate the Chek Beverage plant and its Hammond, La., and Plant City, Fla., dairies.

The company also said that it is working to find a third party to produce elsewhere the items made at its Astor Products plant in Jacksonville, Fla., and the condiments at the Deep South plant. Those plants will then be closed.

Winn-Dixie, which filed for bankruptcy on Feb. 21, is No. 182 on the 2005 Fortune 500 list of the country's largest corporations. Winn-Dixie was ranked No. 8 among 19 food and drug store companies.

The local store personnel remained quiet about the announcement with one unidentified employee calling it a rumor.

However, Patrick McSweeney, a spokesman for Winn-Dixie at the Jacksonville headquarters, confirmed it.

"The store in Greenville is slated for sale or closure," he said.

"We have the store on the market right now and are working through some third parties to sell the store. If we cannot sell it through this summer, then they'll be closed, so we'll want to move as quickly as possible in the coming weeks."

As for the approximate 70 employees at the store, McSweeney said some will have an opportunity to transfer within the reorganized company.

"We have had our human resources specialists in the stores throughout the week providing information to employees," he said.

"This is obviously a tough decision for our employees on whether they should transfer elsewhere or not."

He said this was an especially tough decision to make but that for the company to be "restored to sound financial health," the decision to close the stores and make the cuts had to be done.

"We regret that the decision will affect our associates and we regret that it will affect our customers in a negative way," he said.

"But we had to make this decision to get the company back in sound financial shape in the future."

One customer outside of the Greenville Winn-Dixie said Tuesday afternoon she was displeased with the decision.

"I like this store," she said. "I think it's horrible that they're closing.

I've only been in Greenville for a year, but I really like the people here.

This means that I'll probably have to use the another pharmacy, unfortunately."

Another customer, who is described by a Winn-Dixie employee as being "a faithful customer," said that she was "very disappointed."

"I hate it," she continued.

"I work in Montgomery, so this means that I will just do my grocery shopping in Montgomery."

Carol Lee, executive director of the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce.

"They have been a big Chamber supporter over the years as far as supporting the programs and events that we've had," she said.

"We just really hate to see this happen.

The loss of 70 jobs is going to be hard and if they Chamber can do anything to help those losing their jobs, we'll do all we can to help them."