The downtown Fred's store, 304 Fifth St., is one of two Columbus Fred's locations slated to close by the end of May. Since Fred's announced the closings last week, public outcry and even a letter from Mayor Robert Smith are asking the corporate office to reconsider. Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
April 17, 2019 10:26:08 AM
Delakes Lang, 50, spent her childhood Saturdays walking downtown to shop at Fred's.
She would walk from 22nd Street South to the store at 304 Fifth St. S. and pick up a snack on summer afternoons, typically a Little Debbie. In the years since, visits to the store that has been a downtown fixture since at least the 1970s, continued to be part of Lang's weekly routine.
And she's hardly alone.
"It's a big thing if you don't have a car," Lang said Tuesday afternoon before picking up her groceries. "If you just sit here and watch on Saturday, you'll see people coming up here getting cleaning supplies. ... It's a good outlet for them to walk up here to get household (supplies) and canned goods. ... The people that don't have cars, after they close this down, they'll really be stranded."
Fred's corporate office in Memphis, Tennessee, announced last week it would close more than 100 "under-performing" stores, including both Columbus locations (downtown and 201-G Alabama St.), by the end of May. The move has sparked public outcry and even compelled Mayor Robert Smith to pen a letter to Fred's corporate office pleading for the two locations to remain open.
Closing the downtown location will be a particularly rough blow to residents like Lashundra Sherrod, who said she shops there to save money.
"They got most everything you need and it's cheaper than the other stores," Sherrod said. "We are going to miss this store because it's cheap. I've been in Columbus for six years. I've been coming since I've been over here. ... This was a store that you could find stuff that you can't find anywhere else."
Some residents, like Frances Glenn, have taken it upon themselves to fight back, calling the corporate office and urging others to do the same.
Still, she's not optimistic the effort will change the outcome.
"I've called. I've given out the phone number," Glenn said. "It looks like this time the decision has been made."
When Glenn was young, she would walk with her great-grandmother to Fred's and get "a treat." Now, she lives in her late great-grandmother's house and has gifted her five sons with the same reward she remembers getting as a child.
"They are all grown now, but they all grew up going to Fred's," Glenn said. "That was kind of a privilege to walk to Fred's. I used to tell them, 'If it's not at Fred's, you're not getting it. If you can't find it at Fred's, you don't need it.'
"We go to Fred's every day, and I am not kidding," she added. "Between my husband and I, we go every day."
For Glenn, shopping each day at the neighborhood store is convenient. She said she will likely miss walking three blocks to pick up last minute poster board for her son's school projects and chocolate chips. More than that, Glenn said, she will miss the friendships of Fred's employees, namely long-term manager Beverly Blakeney.
"Of course I have selfish reasons, but I thought of our friends that work there," Glenn said. "(Beverly) will tell us about an upcoming sale. She knows our kids, all our boys. One time, when Ms. Beverly had to work, it must have been a holiday when a lot of places were closed, we took her lunch. That, to me, is what's going to be so sad, not having that friendship. For us, it's convenient, but for them it's their livelihood."
Until the Fred's stores shutter, Glenn said, she'll stay positive.
"Until the doors close, I always think there's hope we might can save it," she said. "I don't know where we are going to go. I guess I will have to do a better job on the grocery list. I haven't thought about life without Fred's."
Smith mailed a letter to the corporate office on Monday.
He detailed the importance of the downtown store which serves university students, downtown apartments and a number of nearby homes.
He added the east Columbus store, on Alabama Street, serves customers from Columbus High School, private school, residences and a retirement center.
Smith offered two proposals for Fred's. He said The Retail Coach, the Tupelo-based firm the city has hired for retail development and recruitment, could provide market demographics for the business' consideration to keep these stores open. He also proposed, if Fred's remains open, to host a grand reopening.
The city's public information officer, Joe Dillon, said the city has not heard back from Fred's but remains hopeful.
"I believe we can encourage residents that shopping locally does make a difference and our residents can show their support by purchasing local rather than from the internet," Smith's letter states.
Fred's employees were instructed not to speak with media and the corporate office did not return phone calls from The Dispatch by press time.
1. Gibbs-Gray, Beard head to runoff in Ward 4 special election COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Aldermen OK retail center TIF to bring in ALDI, TJ Maxx STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
3. Six candidates qualify for Ward 1 COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. Sex offender compliance check leads to four arrests in Lowndes County COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY