Originally created 02/28/04

Grocery chain may keep store

After meeting with Bi-Lo Corp. officials Friday, Augusta commissioners said they were hopeful the grocery chain would keep its store on Deans Bridge Road open.

But the three Bi-Lo officials who met behind closed doors for more than an hour with Mayor Bob Young, Commissioners Bobby Hankerson, Jimmy Smith, Barbara Sims and Willie Mays, and other city officials weren't talking.

John H. Symons III, the executive vice president of store operations, and two other Bi-Lo officials left immediately after the meeting without comment.

The store is scheduled to close March 6. Its 44 employees are to be relocated to other stores.

Bi-Lo officials announced the closing a week ago. An expired lease and old equipment were given as reasons for the closure.

City officials said they had made offers.

"We had a very good discussion today, a very frank discussion, and we have a line of communications open," Mr. Young said. "They're going back to review some things, and we're going to review some things and continue our discussions next week."

Mr. Young said the city did not offer any specific incentive to try to keep the store open in the Deans Bridge Shopping Center.

Commissioner Bobby Hankerson, in whose district the store is located, said Warren Smith, the city's director of Housing and Neighborhood Development, outlined various plans and programs that benefit job-creating businesses.

Mr. Hankerson said Bi-Lo officials indicated they might explore a lease extension.

Before closing the meeting to the public Friday, Bi-Lo officials received petitions signed by hundreds of south Augusta residents and heard appeals from several residents, including Dr. Charles Smith, the branch president of the NAACP.

"It's very, very important not to allow businesses in our community to fold," Dr. Smith said. "It is just so important that Bi-Lo do everything possible to stay. And we've got to make sure our citizens shop at Bi-Lo and urge Bi-Lo to find a way to extend their lease."

Dr. Smith and Randolph Wade Jr., the president of Barton Chapel Neighborhood Association, stressed that residential areas around the store are growing.

They also voiced concern that if Bi-Lo goes, other stores in the Deans Bridge Center will follow suit.


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