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Ending of an Era: Southern States Cooperative Announces Store Closings in Downtown Boone, Elsewhere

The downtown Boone location will be closed as of July 25. Photo by Ken Ketchie

By Jesse Wood

July 18, 2013. As Southern States Cooperative celebrates its 90th anniversary, the company announced that 17 of its retail stores – including one in downtown Boone and Lenoir – will close by July 25.

Sam Lawson, general manager of the Boone location, said he had two full-time employees and three part-time employees, excluding himself. Lawson worked at that location for 30 years and said the closing would be the ending of an era. 

Lawson was notified last Friday. 

The news comes at the same time as the announcement of the Southern States’ new Agronomy Business Unit, which will “better serve the needs of core agricultural customers,” a press release notes.

“Our new growth strategy will enable us to be more streamlined and efficient from sourcing products to application in our farmers’ fields,” said Tom Scribner, Southern States president and CEO. “The agricultural industry is changing rapidly and we plan to be at the forefront of those improvements. Our board of directors has approved investments in new equipment, personnel and facilities to better serve our farmer producers in key markets.”

Along with two North Carolina locations, eight Alabama stores and seven Georgia stores are closing as well. Eight retail showrooms located in Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are closing, too. 

More than 1,200 retail outlets exist in 17 states, and the company offers a wide range of farm inputs, including fertilizer, seed, feed, livestock feed and other farm and home products.

What would eventually become Southern States formed in 1923, when 150 farmers gathered in Richmond, Va., to “remedy the situation” of being unable to acquire high-quality seeds in the Commonwealth, according to a history of the company on its website. 

“With $11,000 in capital, two employees and a second-hand typewriter,” the Virginia Seed Service cooperative was born. In the early 1930s, the company changed its name to Southern States Cooperative and expanded its service areas into Delaware and Maryland and a decade later into Kentucky and West Virginia.

It wasn’t until 1986 that the company expanded into North Carolina, taking over the downtown Boone location which began as FCX Inc. in 1950. FCX, which had stores in South Carolina and North Carolina at the time, went bankrupt in the 1980s.  

Southern States owns the property, according to Watauga County Register of Deeds.

Steve Patterson, vice president of marketing and communications for Southern States, said “what will likely happen” is that the company will find an independent dealer who is interested in the property and who is interested in becoming a Southern States dealer. 

Everything in the store, excluding feed, is 25 to 75 percent off. 

Southern States is located at 178 Water Street in downtown Boone.