By Jill Penley
First, it wasn’t closing, and then it was. While the Mountain City location of Fred’s was spared when the company announced the closing of more than 280 underperforming stores in 13 states in April and again when the list of 49 closing stores was announced in June, the Memphis-based discount chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week and has announced it will now close all its stores. Liquidation sales are ongoing at all remaining locations.
“Despite our team’s best efforts, we were not able to avoid this outcome,” said Joe Anto, Chief Executive Officer at Fred’s. “I want to thank all of our employees for their hard work and continued support of the company as we wind down our operations.”
The discount merchandise retailer was founded in 1947 in Coldwater, Mississippi, and expanded across the Southeast. Fred’s eventually moved to Memphis and became a 700-store chain at its peak.
“It’s sad to see any store close,” said Renee Proffitt, ‘and for here, it is a pretty big deal because of jobs.” To learn how many local jobs would be eliminated due to the store closing, calls were made to Fred’s Corporate office and the local Fred’s store. Neither would provide the information.
“My mom will certainly miss Fred’s,” said Joana Morrison, who has fond memories of shopping at the Mountain City Fred’s with her mother and her grandmother, who is now deceased. “I took my Mamaw Simcox there lots of times and led her around,” she said. “It’s sad when I think of that, but hopefully something good will replace the store that will be nice for our county.”
Fred’s has been posting yearly losses since 2015 as management struggled to find a turnaround plan and had to make multiple rounds of store closures. Financial analysts point to a failed plan to triple the chain’s size in 2017 by purchasing divested Rite Aid stores in an effort to expand the pharmacy side of the company.
Most locals are hopeful another retailer will choose to come to Johnson County. “I am sad to see it go, but I’m hopeful that something will come in soon,” said Laura Holloway, who suggests maybe a Dollar Tree would be nice. “Hopefully it won’t be another Dollar General,” she said. “My three-year-old granddaughter calls them the yellow store and she’s always saying ‘there’s another one, there’s another one’…even she notices how many there is around here.”
“I will miss Fred’s tremendously,” said Rita Hewett. “I always try and shop at the locally owned stores, but their hours of operation make it difficult. She relates she has popped in to Fred’s for that last minute gift, cold and flu medicine, a rug or new towels for surprise guests, package of socks and more. “Dollar General is always such a mess,” she said. “I dread shopping there.”
“It is a sad occasion anytime we lose a local shopping option,” said Mike Taylor, Johnson County Mayor. “Fred’s has been a good retail partner for a number of years. I understand that they have to make some difficult business decisions in a very competitive market.” Taylor hopes to acquire a new tenant soon relating the location and space is desirable.