Originally created 08/04/98

JB White to remain in region



Augusta's three JB White stores are safe from another corporate shuffle: Executives at Dillard's Inc. have decided the stores will not be included in a deal to resell 26 department stores acquired in a $2.9 billion buyout of Mercantile Stores Co.

All three of the locations -- Augusta Mall, National Hills and Heritage Square in Aiken -- will remain with Dillard's, said Julie Bull, director of investor relations.

Area workers still don't know if the changes will affect their jobs.

"I'm one of the people who's wondering. Dillard's does not have a personal shopper program," personal shopper Lynn Ward said. "We're all waiting to see what happens. We've got our fingers and toes crossed."

Dillard's executives decided to sell 26 of the stores acquired in the buyout to avoid having an excessive number of stores in some markets. Proffit's Inc., based in Birmingham, Ala., will buy 15 stores in Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee and South Carolina, including the store in Spartanburg, S.C.

Most of the other JB White stores in South Carolina that Dillard's is buying in the Mercantile deal will become Belk stores as part of a swap with Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk Inc.

Dillard's and Mercantile had 54 overlapping stores in 23 markets when Dillard's announced in May it would acquire Mercantile for $80 a share. Approval of the deal has been held up while regulators look over the transaction.

Dillard's, based in Little Rock, Ark., would have had more than 365 stores and annual sales of $10 billion under the deal when it was announced.

"Some people considered the store overlap situation with regard to this acquisition to be a problem. We have always seen it as a great opportunity for Dillard's," said James I. Freeman, Dillard's chief financial officer.