Albany shoppers look for closeout bargains of 40-70 percent off as the Piggly Wiggly supermarket at 2826 Meredith Drive liquidates the store in preparation of the grocery’s closure. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — The shelves are nearly bare as Piggly Wiggly on Meredyth Drive in Albany prepares to close its door for the final time.
In an effort to liquidate the entire inventory prior to closing, everything in the store has been discounted, with some items marked down as far as 70 percent.
In the wake of parent company Belle Foods LLP declaring bankruptcy on July 1, the store and its staff have been planning for a possible shutdown, if the location was not purchased by a competitor. The original plan was to be closed by Oct. 19, but the store is well ahead of schedule.
“We’re going to leave it open until everything’s gone,” said Store Manager Al Masters. “The way things are going, that’ll happen over the weekend. I’d imagine it’ll be the first of next week.”
Once the doors are closed, it will leave 40 employees looking for work, a situation that frustrates Masters.
“They’re shocked, ” said Masters. “They’re good people out of job through no fault of their own.”
Hopes were high that the supermarket would get a reprieve when on Sept. 27, when Northern District of Alabama Bankruptcy Judge Jack Caddell approved a bid from retail grocery cooperative Associated Wholesale Growers (AWG) to purchase the 43 remaining Belle Foods locations.
However, despite subsequently selling 41 of the purchased stores to various other grocers, AWG was unable to find a buyer for stores it acquired in Albany and Enterprise, Ala. and moved forward with the closure.
“They were for sale, but no one attempted to buy them,” Masters said. “I guess buyers thought it was too competitive a climate for grocery stores in Albany.”
Masters, who has worked in the business since 1970, said he was as surprised as everyone else when the store didn’t sell to another company.
“Most of us were expecting it to be bought and still have a job,” Masters said. “Most of us have never done this, so we’re figuring out what to do.”
In an effort to help, Masters has been reaching out to other retailers and the community to help find work for those being displaced. He has already spoken to Winn Dixie, Harvey’s and Publix and garnered some interest.
“The response from other stores has been good,” Masters added. “Some of the competitors are looking forward to getting some good, well trained help.”
Like other store employees, Masters finds himself, at 59, looking for a job at a time when many are thinking about retirement, which is something he did not expect.
“I’ve never been unemployed in my life,” Masters said. “Since it was a bankruptcy, there’s no severance or insurance. Our insurance was stopped Oct. 1. We really do need jobs.”
Despite the loss of income and insurance, Masters remains hopeful of a positive end to the situation.
“If we could get 20 out of the 40 hired elsewhere, it would be great.” said Masters.
The closure marks the first time in 21 years that a supermarket has not occupied the Meredyth Drive location, which was built in 1992 as a Bruno’s Food and Pharmacy, and has since operated as a Southern Family Market and a Piggly Wiggly.