Scuttlebiz: Sam’s Club to undergo major renovation

I want you back.


That appears to be the message Augusta’s Sam’s Club will send to metro area customers this summer when it kicks off a major renovation of its store at 596 Bobby Jones Expressway.

A Sam’s Club spokeswoman confirmed the upcoming renovation this past week and said the store will remain open throughout the remodel, which will change the store inside and out.

A construction permit has not yet been filed with Richmond County, but similar improvements to other Sam’s Club stores have exceeded $1 million.

Plans for the Augusta store show improvements that customers will notice – such as new bathrooms, a new snack bar and “shop-in” produce and dairy coolers – and those they will not – including upgraded rotisserie ovens, new managerial offices and remodeled receiving and staging areas.

The retail club has been upgrading warehouse stores nationwide to better serve members who have been increasingly going to warehouse rival Costco or using online subscription services such as Amazon’s Prime.

Sam’s Club CEO Rosa­lind Brewer told Fortune magazine in a recent interview that the company is improving its “Member’s Mark” store brand (to compete against Costco’s in-house “Kirkland” brand) and boosting its offering of gourmet and natural foods.

The Walmart-owned club store last upgraded the 136,000-square-foot Augusta property in 2010, the year before Costco opened its 145,000-square-foot warehouse store in the Village at Riverwatch development at River Watch Parkway and Interstate 20.

That particular Sam’s Club remodel gave the store its current look, a 12-pump fuel station in the parking lot and boosted interior space by 30,000 square feet to add a photo department, pharmacy and optical center.

The chain – America’s eighth-largest retailer – was founded in 1983 and named after Walmart founder Sam Walton. Augusta’s store opened in 1987. So, I suppose the store’s summer facelift could be considered a 30th birthday present?


MORE NEW(-ISH) CON­STRUC­TION: On March 30, the folks over at the new Hampton Inn &Suites by Hilton at 3028B Washington Road will hold their 10th grand opening and ribbon-cutting celebration.

It’s not actually their 10th event, it just feels that way. I think it’s only their third or fourth.

At any rate, they’re obviously proud of the 126-room property – and they should be. The “Masters-inspired” hotel is not your typical Hampton Inn, unless the ones you’ve been to happened to have outdoor putting greens and furnishings upholstered in golf-plaid.

The new Hampton Inn was developed by Green­ville, S.C.-based JHM Hotels, the company that decades ago developed the Red Roof Inn the newer and nicer Hampton Inn is tucked behind.

Almost directly across the street at 3023½ Wash­ing­ton Road, tucked behind what used to be the America’s Best Value Inn, is a Fairfield Inn &Suites by Marriott under development by Warner Robins, Ga.-based Peach State Hospitality LLC, the same company that built the Residence Inn Marriott near the intersection of Marks Church and Wheeler roads as well as the SpringHill Suites Marriott under construction next door.

Add in two confirmed downtown hotels (Hyatt House on Broad Street and a yet-to-be-finalized Marriott brand at Ninth and Reynolds streets) and two potential hotels in the city center (a possible Crowne Plaza at North Augusta’s Project Jackson and a yet-to-be-announced project on Broad Street’s 1100 block by a Florence, S.C.-based developer), and you’ve got quite the spate of hospitality construction going on.

And that’s without two new extended-stay hotels on the drawing board for Gordon Highway near the Bobby Jones Expressway intersection.

According to the Augusta Convention &Visitors Bureau, there are 73 hotels with more than 7,300 rooms in the Augusta area. Twenty-one of those properties have opened in the last 10 years.


A NEW (OLD) NAME IN AC­COUNTING: Baird &Co. CPAs LLC of Augusta, a nearly century-old name in accounting, has been acquired by Knoxville, Tenn.-based accounting firm Lawhorn CPA Group Inc.

The new company will be called Lawhorn-Baird CPA Group LLC, President and CEO Jason Lawhorn said.

Lawhorn CPA was established in 1979. The new division will be managed by Lawhorn CPA partners. Baird CPA said it will continue providing audit services through the Baird Audit Group LLC, which wll be managed by Bairds’ Rep Whiddon.

Baird employee John Gillion Jr. will head the merged Augusta office, which is Lawhorn’s fourth after Knoxville, Tenn.; Jefferson City, Mo.: and Jackson Hole, Wyo.


SCRATCH-AND-DENT DEALS: Aiken-based Prestige Appliance LLC, which last year opened its first retail store in Augusta on River Watch Parkway, announced this past week it will open its first “factory discount store” in mid-April on Bobby Jones Expressway.

The store, called Discount Appliance of Augusta, will occupy about 5,000-square-feet of space in Anderson Plaza where West Marine was previously located. Owner and former Maytag executive Doug Huffer said the store will offer Frigidaire, Electrolux and other brands that are factory closeouts, have factory blemishes or minor scratches and dents. All new units will be sold with factory warranties.

“It enables us to further extend our product offering to all segments and price points of the Augusta market that we normally wouldn’t serve,” Huffer says.

The independent appliance dealer was founded in 2007 and has showrooms in Augusta and Aiken and Columbia, S.C. The company will open a showroom in Beaufort, S.C., this spring.


OLD FIRM, NEW LOCATION: Our friends over at the Columbia-County News Times and Buzz on Biz reported the folks at DeFoor Realty may have uncovered some historic documents while moving the company’s Harlem office from 212 N. Louisville St. to the old Bank of Columbia County building at 202 N. Louisville St.

The property, at the corner of N. Louisville and Hicks streets, was most recently operated by a loan and income tax service.

While surveying the building in preparation for some much-needed renovation, DeFoor’s Bobby Culpepper discovered a stack of records from the turn of the century. The DeFoor team turned the documents over to local museum curators to determine if they have historical significance.

Whether the records are valuable or as worthless as my grade-school art projects (my mom’s still hopeful), DeFoor should be applauded for sending the documents to the proper officials instead of the neighborhood trash hauler.

As for DeFoor’s old space, it will be filled by the expansion of the Blush salon at 214 N. Louisville St.

That little town is on the move, apparently.

An opening date for DeFoor’s new office has not yet been set.


ANOTHER “OPEN” OPENING DATE: Augusta University’s academic medical center is inching closer to building the hospital in Grovetown that Columbia County officials envision as home plate in their “field of dreams.”

Leaders with the university and AU Medical Center (it’s all the same ball of wax, really) last month held an event celebrating the purchase of 82 acres to house the $150 million facility near Grovetown’s “Gateway” exit. The revelry at ground zero just happened to come days after the Development Authority of Richmond County voted to give the hospital preliminary approval for a $75 million bond issue.

Hospital officials at the authority’s Feb. 16 meeting told board members the funds would be used to pay for future expansion of its downtown campus as well as retire debt associated with past downtown projects. Details were scant and not a question was asked during the 14 seconds (yes, I timed it) it took authority members to give unanimous approval once the motion was made.

AU hospital officials later told The Chronicle they probably would tap only about $55 million of the funds, with $41 million of that going to reduce the health system’s existing debt load and the rest toward projects such as relocating its infectious-disease center. The resolution language, however, does not stipulate where or how AU can use its funds.

AU’s health system reported $178.6 million in long-term debt as of De­cem­ber. Minus the $30 million Columbia County taxpayers will fork over for the privilege of having AU Medical Center as their sole hospital provider – you can thank the horribly politicized “certificate of need” approval process for that – and you’re left with a 100-bed project needing about $120 million in financing.

Since all the hospital’s money goes in and out of the same pot, there are two ways to look at Richmond County’s decision to let AU Medical Center tap $75 million on the bond market: One, Richmond County officials were eager to reward the homegrown institution for being a good corporate citizen and show thanks for all the capital investment and jobs it has created over the years; and two, they made it easier – up to $75 million easier – for the health system to create up to 500 new jobs and build a $150 million hospital outside the county.

Finance and accounting mumbo-jumbo aside, every dollar the hospital gets from one county frees up a dollar for it to spend in another.

Sounds to me like a case of regional cooperation. The accidental, unintentional variety.


Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or