The Fred’s discount store in Darien will be among 129 closing as the company continues a dramatic slide to less than 15 percent of its size five months ago.
Having already closed more than 300 of its stores since February, Fred’s Inc. announced Friday in a news release it will close 129 more including the one off U.S. 17 in north Darien and another in Alma.
The company said it will hold clearance sales and that all of its pharmacies will remain open to fulfill prescriptions.
Although the store is just outside the city limits, Darien Mayor Bubba Hodge said he thinks of Fred’s as part of the city because it has been there so long and is a favorite of local residents.
“It’s really going to hurt the citizens,’’ he said, of the closing, because it’s close and accessible to local residents many of whom don’t have reliable transportation to retail outlets in Brunswick.
“Some ride electric scooters or bicycles to Fred’s,’’ he said.
Also, the store is a discount department store in a city that doesn’t have a Walmart, Target or other chain, he said.
Fred’s recently began selling plumbing supplies so people can find parts to fix leaking sink drains or other problems on a Sunday afternoon when local hardware stores are closed, Hodge said.
The store already had a clearance sale going and others will follow to clear out inventory at the stores marked for shutdown. Friday, Fred’s had a lot of customers browsing among clothes, furniture, appliances, fishing tackle and some auto supplies. It has flower and vegetable seed and the hoes, rakes and shovels needed to plant them. For those who don’t plant, it has canned goods, bread and drinks.
It has oyster knives, a must for McIntosh County, and racks of children’s clothes sat near the entrance.
Hodge said the store has been in Darien so long it’s become a fixture after it moved into a former Western Auto store after it closed. Indeed, Louise Johnson has been at the store for 27 years.
“Most all of our customers are regulars because it’s a small community,’’ coming in for the same items over and over, she said.
The employees learned of the closing list late Thursday, and the company made a public announcement Friday morning.
“While it is never easy to make decisions that impact our valued employees and customers, this initiative represents another necessary step in our continued efforts to stabilize our business by simplifying our store portfolio and product assortment,” Fred’s CEO Joseph Anto said in the release.
The closures will reduce the company to 80 stores, mostly around its distribution center in Dublin, Ga.
It was bad news for Kenneth Heidt and Doritha Sloan.
Since the Fred’s in Brunswick closed in late May, Sloan said she has been worried about the Darien store.
“Every time I came in, I asked them and they say no,’’ the store wasn’t closing, Sloan said.
Asked why she favored Fred’s Sloan said, “You’re home. There won’t be any place in Darien to shop after a while.”
Heidt said he shopped there when it was still a Western Auto.
“I bought my son’s first go kart from here. I’ve still got it, and he’s 34 years old now,’’ Heidt said.
Heidt said he’s dismayed he’ll have to leave his hometown to shop.
Inside during a lull between customers, one cashier told another about new procedures.
“No checks from this day forward. We’ll take returns until the end of the day. No Fred’s gift cards, period,’’ she said.
Donnie Sikes walked out of Fred’s with a prescription and said he was glad the pharmacy would remain open.
Except for prescriptions, he doesn’t come to the store often, but he was happy to have it there.
“Maybe when we need a rake or something. I hate to see it close,’’ he said.