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Winn-Dixie closing 10 North Alabama stores, 326 in nation

By Jay Wilson
DAILY Business Writer 340-2440

Its stores are as common as cotton fields and car lots in North Alabama, but one of the nation's largest food retailers decided to change that Tuesday.

Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. announced that it would pull out of North Alabama as part of an overall company downsizing. Winn-Dixie will close its stores in Decatur and Athens.

This strategic shrinking will cut 22,000 jobs and close or sell 326 stores.

Terry Derreberry, neighborhood marketing director, said the grocer will focus its resources in areas where it enjoys a significant market share.

Judging by its indicated areas of complete retreat, Winn-Dixie does not have a significant market share in the Huntsville and Atlanta areas. It is leaving both entirely.

In order to boost long-term profitability, Chief Executive Officer Peter Lynch said the company will cut its work force by 28 percent, including about 500 positions at its Jacksonville, Fla., headquarters.

Winn-Dixie will drop from 1,003 stores in nine states and the Bahamas to 587 stores in five states and the Bahamas. Of the 326 stores slated for closure, 233 are in markets the company is leaving entirely.

Decatur is in the company's Huntsville designated marketing area, which also includes Athens, Florence, Madison, Meridianville and Killen.

This seven-city area will lose 10 Winn-Dixie stores through sale or closure.

The company's press release indicates it is "pursuing an active marketing effort to identify potential buyers for the stores. Stores that cannot be sold will be closed."

Customer reaction

Decatur's Winn-Dixie at 1000 Beltline Road S.W. faces stiff competition from a nearby Wal-Mart Super-center and a Publix, according to shoppers.

The parking lot was relatively empty at about 2 p.m. Tuesday, but most of the customers said it was typically a slow time for everyone. Decatur resident and recent Tuscaloosa transplant Amy Calame was surprised to hear that Winn-Dixie management would close her favorite grocery stop.

"I hate that," she said. "I love Winn-Dixie."

Calame said she shopped the store, ironically, because of comfort. "I like that it's not as crowded," she said.

Candace Grizzard, also of Decatur, said she doesn't shop Winn-Dixie often.

"The only time I shop here is when I don't feel like fooling with Wal-Mart or those others," she said, describing the frustration of 30 people lined up for three cashiers in Wal-Mart.

Dawn Netherton is an avid fan of Winn-Dixie, her grocery of choice for the past 12 years.

"I feel like I save money on the things I buy," she said. "The employees are more personal than others."

These shoppers all agreed on one point, regardless of their thoughts about Winn-Dixie. Grizzard said it best.

"I can't hardly wait for Target," she said.

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