COLUMBIA — Bill’s Dollar Store, a discount retailer that now has more than 400 stores in 13 Southeastern states, had its beginnings in Columbia. Now the company that most recently was headquartered in Ridgeland is coming back home.
Bill’s Dollar Store is in the process of moving its headquarters back to Columbia, and consolidating its distribution centers to Columbia, as well. Previously the company had distribution centers in Augusta, Ga., as well as Columbia.
The center in Augusta is being closed and consolidated to the facility in Columbia and will serve all of the stores in the chain.
About 100 employees are being relocated to Columbia as a result of the corporate transition, a big boost for this small Mississippi town, population 6,800. The store originated in Columbia in 1919 as W.E. Walker Company.
Columbia Mayor Harold Bryant said that relocating Bill’s Dollar Store headquarters to Columbia was “probably the best economic news we’ve had in several years.”
“We’re thrilled that Bill’s Dollar Store is moving their main office here now,” said Judy Griffith, manager of the Columbia Main Street program. “We’re thrilled to have them back in Columbia. It will increase employment. They have some employees moving into town, so we have a lot of people looking for homes and apartments, which will help the real estate market.”
Bill’s Dollar Store was purchased for $30 million in a bankruptcy sale in April by Factor Inc, a subsidiary of Baugur S.A. of Luxembourg, Europe.
Jim Schafer, president and CEO of Bill’s Dollar Store, said the new ownership decided to move the corporate headquarters back to its roots in Columbia.
“The move is expected to be complete in the next few months,” Schafer said. “Consolidating the operations into one central location will enable Bill’s to serve their stores and customers better.”
About 120 people were employed at the Ridgeland headquarters of Bill’s Dollar Store, but not all have chosen to relocate to Columbia and some positions have been eliminated. Bill’s has been recruiting employees to take the place of employees who didn’t relocate. Positions being recruited include administrative assistants, buyers, switchboard operators, payroll and sales, computer operators, programmers, data entry personnel and systems operators.
Schafer said Bill’s will return to the basics of retailing with Bill’s employees working side by side with the distribution, transportation and merchandising groups.
“Our business is to buy and sell merchandise and keep it as simple as possible,” Schafer said. “This is the right move at the right time for the future of Bill’s. We know that Columbia and the surrounding areas have a lot to offer our company, and we have a lot to contribute as well. We look forward to becoming a part of the community once again.”
Bill’s Dollar Store, which offers deep discount prices on basic everyday items, targets customers with household incomes of less than $50,000 per year. The stores sell household cleaning supplies, health and beauty aids and food items. In addition, there are items for the home as well as housewares, clothing and shoes. The average new store is 9,000 square feet, and located in neighborhoods where customers live.
Bill’s headquarters is returning to a community that has been thriving in recent years, and has nearly 100% occupancy downtown. Currently the Main Street program is in the process of conducting a major landscaping project downtown. Sidewalks are being torn up and replaced by bricks, and antique-looking lamp posts similar to those once in use in the past are being installed.
Like many Mississippi towns, Columbia used to have brick streets that long ago were covered over with concrete or asphalt. But Marion County and the City of Columbia have agreed to restore the brick streets in front of the courthouse and the theater back to their original state.
Griffin said it hurt the downtown when J.C. Penney closed and moved out. That building is vacant, and efforts are being made to attract a similar retail operation. There are no longer any large department stores downtown. But one large building, the old Lampton Company, has been subdivided into a number of small businesses in one building including a restaurant, the Back Door Caf