Food Lion Closing All First Coast Stores

All Food Lion stores on the First Coast, including a dozen in Jacksonville, are closing, company officials announced. The stores will be closed within 30 days, the company said.

Approximately 900 Florida employees of the chain will be affected with about 450 of those coming from Jacksonville locations, according to Food Lion spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown. Stores in Clay, St. Johns, Nassau, Baker and Alachua counties are also closing. In addition, the Food Lion in Waycross is among the Georgia stores slated to be closed.

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The company will convert its Food Lion in Lake City to a Harveys store. All of the other stores in Florida are closing. The company announced the closures in a prepared statement.

Food Lion LLC is a subsidiary of Brussels-based Delhaize Group, which described the closures as "key strategic actions to strengthen its US portfolio."

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It said the 113 Food Lions being closed were "under-performing" stores, primarily in markets in which the company has the least store density.

The employees of the Food Lion on Blackford Way in St. Augustine were told the devastating news after being called into mandatory meeting at 9 p.m.

"We were totally blind-sided," said Jason Smith, who's worked at the store about a year and a half. "Nobody had any clue today that we'd all be out of a job in 30 days or less. It was a shock to everyone."

Smith, who worked as a cashier and stocker, was among about 30 employees at the store. They were told that they would have an opportunity to relocate to one of the stores remaining open.

He said the company said there would be some severance pay for those who don't relocate.

Their store has only been open for about 2 1/2 years. It and a restaurant were the only businesses open in the shopping center, he said. "Our store was pretty slow," Smith said.

Founded as Food Town in 1957, Food Lion is one of the largest supermarket companies in the United States.

Food Lion LLC operates about 1,300 supermarkets, either directly or through affiliated entities, under the names of Food Lion, Bloom, Bottom Dollar, Harveys and Reid's.

"Today's actions will continue to solidify our US operations and enable our company to focus on our successful brand strategy repositioning at Food Lion and the expansion of Bottom Dollar Food in new markets," said Ron Hodge, chief executive officer of Delhaize America.

"While these were difficult decisions given the impact on our associates, customers and communities, we believe these actions will enable us to better serve our customers in our markets with high density, while positioning the company for future growth," Hodge said.

The company is retiring the Bloom banner. It will convert 64 Bloom and Bottom Dollar Food stores in Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia to Food Lion stores. The company will close seven under-performing Bloom stores and six Bottom Dollar Food in overlapping Food Lion markets. The company also will discontinue operations of its distribution center located in Clinton, TN, and accelerate the roll out of the Food Lion brand strategy in an additional 600 to 700 stores.