Food Lion Closings a Blow to South Georgia Economy; It's Especially Hard on Waycross, Which Already Has High Unemployment

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Byline: Drew Dixon & Terry Dickson

In the wake of the announcement by Food Lion officials Wednesday that the company will be closing all of its grocery stores in North Florida and South Georgia within a month, employees were scrambling to find new jobs and customers were stunned that their familiar supermarket will soon be gone.

"There's not much you can do," said Aaron Harris, a worker who stocks shelves and packs groceries at the Food Lion on North Main Street in Jacksonville as he was leaving the store Thursday. "I'm going to be unemployed in about a month."

Harris, 23, said he started making calls to other businesses looking for work as soon as he was told Wednesday the store would be closing. He said he already has a couple of leads and he's ready to take any work he can get elsewhere.

For Waycross, it's just another blow in an area that already has double-digit unemployment.

Mayor Clarence Billups was in Atlanta meeting with state officials when he got the news.

"It's bad news for the community for unemployment,'' he said.

The store off Riverside Avenue in northeast Waycross is off the beaten retail path but it anchors a shopping center that has a Rite Aid, Dollar General store and a Chinese restaurant, Billups said.

Tuesday, the University System voted to merge Waycross College, which has about 900 students, with South Georgia College in Douglas. That means the loss of some administrative jobs at the Waycross campus, which will remain open as a satellite.

Some of the Food Lion stores will be converted to Harvey's supermarkets, which is owned by the same company, but Billups said one of Waycross' two Harvey's stores is just a few blocks from the Food Lion.

In the 1990s, long before he was mayor, Billups and John Fluker, his predecessor in office, were among a group that fought the opening of the shopping center on the edge of an African-American neighborhood. Billups, Fluker and other black community leaders argued that the increased traffic would harm the peace of the residential community.

It turns out there wasn't enough traffic and Billups said he has heard no complaints about the shopping center in years.

"It's been a convenience for the people in that area,'' Billups said. "There are a lot of seniors around there and some don't have transportation.''

It is also near some public housing occupied mostly by the elderly.

'UNDER-PERFORMING'

In all, 113 Food Lion stores are being closed nationwide because they were "under-performing," according to store officials.

Food Lion will close 29 stores in Georgia. …