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Homeland To Close Eight Locations

Homeland Holding Corp. announced Tuesday that it will close eight of its most severely under-performing grocery stores as part of a reorganization plan launched a month ago.

The store closures -- including four in Oklahoma City -- will take place during the next six weeks and leave an estimated 300 Homeland employees without jobs. Earlier this year, Homeland closed seven underperforming stores in a move that cost roughly 250 jobs.

"Obviously, this is a difficult time for all of us," Homeland Chief Executive David Clark said. "When you're an employee, you can see the sales and the earnings performance. You may not know the global situation, but you sure understand what's happening in your department or your store.

"We think there are a lot of things we're doing right. But we've gone as far as we can with these particular stores.

After the closures, Homeland will continue to operate 70 grocery stores employing about 3,700 people, the vast majority of them in Oklahoma. Clark said he would rather not speculate about the possibility of additional store closings.

However, Clark said Homeland will continue to evaluate all aspects of its business to try to return the company to profitability. Since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Aug. 1, Homeland has secured $65 million of debtor-in-possession financing to carry the company through the next two years.

Clark said he hopes Homeland will emerge from bankruptcy protection much sooner.

Homeland employees learned of the latest round of store closings Tuesday afternoon. Those affected will be offered positions in other Homeland stores whenever possible, Clark said.

A fellow grocer also failed to register surprise. Jim Mills, owner of several metro-area Snyders IGA stores, said that fierce competition -- largely fueled by Wal-Mart stores -- has left smaller grocers scrambling for customers. While his own business has been pinched, Mills said he's managed to keep stores open. In contrast, he said, Homeland appears to be particularly hard-hit.

Clark denied that Wal-Mart is entirely to blame for Homeland's latest round of closures. Of the eight Homeland stores targeted for closure, only three -- all in Oklahoma City -- are near a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, Clark said. Two other closing Homeland stores, both in Muskogee, aren't near a Wal-Mart store, he said.
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