Community shaken by loss of BI-LO

Nickolas Hill, Staff Reporter

Many grocery stores in Laurens County provide great services and have been serving the community for a long time. One of the most popular grocery stores in Laurens is the BI-LO in the Western Square shopping center, which has been proudly serving its customers since the early ’70s. In the wake of the pandemic, Southeastern Grocers, BI-LO’s parent company, announced in early June that SEG sold many of its stores to Food Lion, and any remaining stores that had not been bought out would be closed between January 2021 and April 2021. With the announcement of the closing of all BI-LOs, the communities around this grocery store chain will feel the economic, physical and emotional impact of losing a very important and popular place to shop.

For many people, BI-LO has been a constant fixture in their lives. For example, Sandra Milyo, the store manager for the BI-LO in Laurens, has worked at the store for four years and has been with the company for over 30 years.

 “BI-LO is definitely a family unit. I have friends that I’ve been friends with for 25 to 30 years. Our last district manager, Angela, has been my best friend for the last 30 years I’ve been at BI-LO,” she said.

“BI-LO associates are way more of a family because of facing bankruptcy twice and being threatened with being shut down three to four times over the past 30 years. Somehow we have always managed to fight our way back up to where we were the most successful grocery store in the area and sometimes in the industry,” Milyo added.

Unfortunately, unless a buyer emerges in the next month and a half, the Laurens BI-LO will close, forcing its workers to find new employment. One of those employees is Cindy McCall, a Direct Store Delivery Receiver, who is in charge of any vendors who come into BI-LO and who handles all of their products. Cindy and her husband, Roy McCall, both work at BI-LO, and in April they will both be out of a job.

“Emotional? It’s breaking my heart because this is what I’ve done. This job has truly provided for my family all these years; however, this entire experience has made me a stronger person, so when it is time to move to the next adventure or the next journey, I won’t be scared,” Cindy McCall said.

“I have made amazing friends. How we’ve learned the customers over the years — I’ve made bonds with them. I’ve watched vendors, kids and grandkids grow up. We are a family,” she said.

Another BI-LO associate who is being affected by the closing is Riley Tumblin, ’20. He’s been with the company for almost three years and currently works behind the customer service desk. 

“Working at BI-LO feels like a second home to me at this point, and to know it’s closing really upsets me. Over the three years I have been there, I have grown so much as a person and as a worker. I’ve grown so much closer to my co-workers, and it upsets me to know that I won’t be working with them much longer,” Tumblin said.

For many people, BI-LO is the only grocery store on the West side of town that they can go to when they need something really quickly. Unfortunately, the store’s imminent closing means those shoppers will have to drive to the other side of Laurens when they need to get something.

Social studies teacher Rick McCloud sees the impact the closing will have on LDHS students and teachers.

“Your age group is going to lose jobs, and it’s just so convenient. Think about the number of teachers who go to BI-LO in the middle of the day [during their planning periods] to grab something and come right back to school,” he said. 

Another person who is seriously upset about the BI-LO closing is guidance counselor Cindy Godwin.

“I like BI-LO. It’s my favorite grocery store out of any of the grocery stores, and it’s convenient. I like their off-brand products and the Bonus Card deals. [The store brand ] just tastes better.” 

Another huge impact that has affected tons of people in this community is the closing of the BI-LO pharmacy. The pharmacy closed in early June right after the announcement that BI-LO was being bought out by Food Lion.

“It was when the pharmacy closed for me. Scott, the head pharmacist for BI-LO, always went above and beyond to help me. When I was out of town and Sydney needed her medicine refilled, he worked hard to make sure she got it,” head guidance counselor Chrys Hill said. 

The effect of BI-LO’s closing is not just felt in Laurens; it is felt all across the state. Heather Wright, ’88, lives in Pawleys Island and is senior Jenna Armstrong’s aunt. Wright taught at LDHS during the 1999-2000 school year. The BI-LO at The Shops at Litchfield Market Village is about two miles from her house, and that store is closing, too.

“I feel like I lost a childhood friend today. BI-LO has been our shopping location since I was a little girl in the Upstate. The one in Litchfield was a comfort when we moved. The cashiers and baggers I have seen more than family or friends during COVID. Fourteen years they have missed being closed because of a sale or the economy… I’m very sad,”  she said.

Over the years of BI-LO’s being open, the store has created a lasting impact on communities all across the Southeast, including Laurens. The BI-LO in Laurens is set to close April 18, 2021, with no plans of opening back up as any store. The loss of this prominent grocery store chain will impact the lives of customers who have shopped there for years and the lives of workers who have created a family unit inside of this store.