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Uncertainties linger for county’s BI-LO stores in new year

Buyers are still being sought for the county’s two BI-LO stores, which are among the last dozen or so Southeastern Grocers’ BI-LO stores which remain unsold following the first and second rounds of divestitures earlier this year.

 In June, 2020, it was announced that the Jacksonville, Florida-based, Southeastern Grocers was selling all its 63 BI-LO and Harveys Supermarket grocery stores in the Carolinas and Georgia in order to refocus efforts into a high-end grocery chain in Florida.  That same month all BI-LO pharmacies closed, including the pharmacy within the Laurens store. Half of the BI-LO stores were purchased by Food Lion.

Then in early September, Alex Lee, which runs Lowes Food, KJ’s Market and IGA stores, purchased about 20 of the remaining stores, which included the BI-LO across Lake Greenwood on Highway 72.

Now Corporate Communications Director Joe Caldwell said Southeastern Grocers is still working to find buyers for the remaining dozen or so stores, including the Clinton and Laurens locations.

“We continue to vet proposals from potential acquirers and conduct our due diligence for strategic options for these stores as they are presented to us,” Caldwell said. “We recognize these stores are an asset to their respective communities, and we will continue to do everything within reason to meet our goal of a smooth transition for these locations by early 2021.”

Laurens Mayor Nathan Senn and Clinton Assistant City Manager Thomas Higgs have both tried to learn more about the status of the local stores, and neither have made much headway.

“We have been in contact with the current owners and we will work with them however we can to make sure the future of that shopping center contributes to the needs of our community,” Senn said. “And frankly, we’ve been clear with them that the best way to meet those needs is to make sure that a grocery store is there to serve the west side of town. Ultimately, though, it is private property, and the future use of that property is up to the owner and any prospective buyers.”

Higgs said several of the City of Clinton staff have also tried to learn more about the situation with little results.

“I tried to reach out to them and it’s gone silent,” Higgs said. “The problem we have is the building isn’t owned by Southeastern Grocers, so it’s hard to reach out to any prospective companies because we don’t know who owns the building.”

Higgs said many strip plazas are in a similar situation.

“Many strip plazas are included in investment portfolios that nobody is looking at until profits drop due to a large empty store. And to further the matter it could even be an international holding company.”

Higgs said the connectivity study Clinton is doing with Blake Sanders in Pelzer will provide the city with an independent research source to show potential investors where there is the highest need for businesses such as grocery stores.

“It’s one of the things we are hoping to accomplish with that study,” Higgs said.

In the meantime, Higgs is hoping the BI-LO store does not close, and he said he has heard rumors that Southeastern Grocers might possibly extend its initial closure plans into the spring of 2021 rather than the winter as it had first planned.

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