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Farm store might close

Aug. 06, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Southern States Cooperative in Huntington may close if members vote Aug. 14 to approve a proposal from corporate to dissolve the Huntington co-op and liquidate the store's assets.

The cooperative is run by Doug Horne, manager of the store located at 1327 7th Ave., and a board of seven farmers from throughout the region. It sells animal feed and supplies, as well as seeds, fertilizers and chemical products for farmers. While it consumes much of their time in the spring, serving farmers makes up about 20 percent of their business these days. The rest of the business is for the urban population for their gardens, lawns and pets.

Norman Davis, a cattle farmer in Fort Gay, is chairman of the board for the Huntington cooperative and said corporate representatives called a meeting, gave a proposal and recommended the board send out a letter and vote for dissolving the co-op. It would result in closing the store, which has 11 employees, at the end of September.

"It was recommended strongly to us to approve it," Davis said. "It's a financial thing they say we can't recoup from. Their recommendation from corporate is that the co-op be dissolved and store closed and assets dispersed, and that's basically it."

Letters and packets were sent to all the Huntington co-op's members, who can mail in their votes but are urged to attend a meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14, where they will have an opportunity to change their vote if they wish. A two-thirds majority vote in favor of the proposal will close the store.

Should the co-op be dissolved and store closed, any funds left after debts are paid would go to the shareholders.

The public is invited to attend the meeting as well to showcase support for the store, Davis said.

He said the board voted in favor of presenting the proposal as is, but members felt they had to.

"In the letter, it's a little misleading because it says we're all in favor of it, but we felt like it was the only option we had," he said. "There's been a lot of customer dissatisfaction with that. People are not interested in seeing the store closed."

It's one of 25 stores that Southern States corporate has proposed to dissolve, Davis said.

Business was up this past spring, but the co-op faces financial struggles after, for a time, fully funding a pension program as required by federal government.

"We were told if we didn't fully fund the pension program, we'd face penalties from federal government," Davis said. "That was a financial burden on the store.

"We're not the only ones in that situation. We voted to do away with the pension program as a cost-saving move. You can't keep something that's dragging you down. Those are things that are tough to come back from after you've made the payments."

Also, demographics in the region have changed dramatically since Southern States started the Huntington cooperative in 1941.

"In the 50s, there were lots and lots of dairy farms, and cumulatively they bought a lot of product," Davis said. "Now we have no dairies. When you lose the dairy feed end of business, you've lost a major part of your business. And a lot of fields up and down (the highways) that used to grow corn and hay are now growing houses. It's just a change in demographics, and it's hurt business."

Not to mention more competition in the marketplace, he said. If this store closes, the nearest Southern States locations will be in Point Pleasant and Morehead, Ky.

Jerry Morse, who has a 38-acre farm in Chesapeake, said he'd be driving to Catlettsburg, Ky., for supplies if the Huntington store closes.

"I've bought supplies (at Southern States) over 40 years," he said.

Horne declined comment. Davis said he hopes that Horne will not lose a position with Southern States despite the outcome, as Horne has "done an excellent job and done everything asked to increase business and cut costs," Davis said.

"I feel sorry for the employees," Davis said. "We have some good employees, and I hate to see them lose their jobs."

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