Originally created 02/06/01

Facility will close in April



Mayor Bob Young couldn't hide his disgust Monday. After only a year in town, Bill's Dollar Store Inc.'s distribution center is shutting down, he learned.

"Their arrival has been too recent for them to be leaving," Mr. Young said.

Ridgeland, Miss.-based Bill's Dollar Store sent notice last week that the warehouse will close April 1, putting 94 people out of work at the 400,000-square-foot leased facility near Augusta Regional Airport on International Boulevard.

The announcement comes as the company plans to close 157 underperforming store locations.

"As with any company, we always evaluate its operations, and those were stores determined to be unprofitable," company spokeswoman Maya Pogoda said.

Ms. Pogoda said the $20 million warehouse is closing because the slowing economy has curtailed the company's plans to develop 100 new stores throughout the Southeast.

The privately held company has a history of financial ups and down, including a 1995 bankruptcy. Chief Executive Officer Tim McAlear rebuilt the company into a 500-store chain prior to the cuts, announced last year.

The store now operates 405 stores in 13 states.

Company officials advised employees Thursday of the pending layoffs, according to letters filed with state and local authorities as required by federal law.

Richard Henson, the local distribution center manager, did not return calls Monday.

The distribution center opened officially in April 2000, although trucks began delivering shipments to the warehouse as early as February of last year. Economic developers had hoped the capital investment would eventually yield 175 jobs.

The mayor said he thinks the company wasted Augusta's time and resources.

The resources were human and financial.

"We curbed International Boulevard and put in water and sewer. We have a financial stake in this project."

Already, local Bill's stores are feeling the pinch of company cutbacks. Items such as toilet tissue, dish-washing detergent and bleach have been in short supply. The company has retail locations on Milledgeville and Windsor Spring roads, U.S. Highway 78 in Harlem and Robinson Avenue in Grovetown.

The company's Waynesboro location is the only area store to have closed.

Bill's Dollar Store began as variety retailer W.E. Walter Co. in 1919 in Columbia, Miss. Columbia is still home to the company's other distribution center.

Similarly to competitors Dollar General and Family Dollar, Bill's markets to consumers earning $30,000 a year or less and primarily stocks household cleaning supplies, nonperishable food items and cosmetics.

Reach Eric Williamson at (706) 828-3904.