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Columbus Lumber sells retail store

Columbus Lumber Co.’s retail store will close its doors for thefinal time at 5 p.m. today.

The inventory of the retail store, which is being sold to HomeHardware Center, will be moved to other Home Hardware Centerlocations, said Jeff Grierson, president and general manager ofColumbus Lumber Co. The store to be closed is located on W.L. BehanRoad.

Home Hardware, which operates a store on Brookhaven Street, madean unsolicited offer to buy the retail division of the company amonth and a half ago, Grierson said. The store had not been put onthe market.

Home Hardware’s home office is located in Natchez.

Raymond White, general manager of Home Hardware Center said JimSmith owns the stores, which operate 10 retail locations inMississippi and Louisiana.

White deferred all operating questions concerning the sale ofColumbus Lumber’s retail store to Grierson.

“A decision was made by Columbus Lumber Company management topursue the offer and accept the best and final offer from HomeHardware,” Grierson said.

Columbus Lumber Co. is partly owned by former WorldCom CEOBernie Ebbers, who has agreed to give up his stake in the companyas well as other assets to settle a lawsuit brought by investors inNew York.

Grierson received word Monday from lawyers from MCI – the formerWorldCom – and lawyers involved in the class-action suit againstEbbers that indicated all were in favor of the transaction.

Grierson said that papers were signed Tuesday morning beginningthe process of the sale of the store, which he expects to takethree to four weeks to complete.

As part of the sale, Columbus Lumber has entered into afive-year agreement with Home Hardware to supply wood to its retailstores.

“This transaction will strengthen both Columbus Lumber Companyand Home Hardware and allows us to focus on our core business,”Grierson said.

“During all points of the process, our employees were keptinformed of the offer that was made and what process we’d take tomake a decision on the sale of the business,” he said.

The 15 employees currently working at Columbus’ retail storewill be given several options with Columbus Lumber or HomeHardware, Grierson said.

Several positions are open in the sawmill, he said. He said hehopes some of those positions can be filled with employees from thestore, depending on their skills.

Home Hardware has said it will have four to six openings andwill interview any existing employees who are interested.

Grierson said that at the end of the process any employees whodo not have jobs will be offered severance packages, which willinclude job-hunting assistance. Columbus Lumber will pay anyassociated fees, Grierson said.

“There is still a human element,” said Grierson “And we want topay proper attention to the employees.”

After today’s closing, existing employees will help with thetransfer of inventory to Home Hardware’s stores.

“At this time, both Home Hardware and Columbus Lumber will beginfilling open positions,” said Grierson.

Grierson believes the sale of the retail store is a goodbusiness decision and right for Columbus Lumber.

The store building and property will remain the property ofColumbus Lumber, said Grierson. Only the store’s inventory, shelvesand any trucks, forklifts or other equipment assigned to the storeare included in the sale, Grierson said.

Columbus Lumber Company began in 1943 as a small southern yellowpine sawmill in Columbus, Miss. At one time, the retail division ofthe business was known as Hill-Behan Retail Stores. During the1990s, some of the nine or 10 stores were either sold or closed,leaving only the store on W.L. Behan Road.

Grierson said the Columbus Lumber has been producing lumber for60 years and will still be making doing so another 60 years fromnow.