Rite Aid closing 'a total shock'

By JEFF BISHOP jbishop@newnan.com When Darren Beckom left work at Rite Aid last fall after an eight-hour shift, he had no inkling anything was amiss. Then he got home and checked the message on his phone. "It was my supervisor," said Beckom. "He told me not to go back to work until further notice."
Beckom said the layoff came as a complete surprise. "I left work and things were fine, I had a job, and the next thing I know, they hand me a 15-week severance," he said. Now history is repeating itself -- only this time, it's everyone who works at the Newnan Rite Aid distribution center that's out of a job. "As a matter of fact, I just got off the phone with one of my friends who works out there," Beckom said Thursday afternoon. "It was a total shock. A total shock." Thursday morning an assembly was called in the break room. Everyone knew something was up when Wilson Lester, senior vice president of the Rite Aid supply chain, showed up, he said. "He's the big dog," said Beckom. "And he dropped the bomb on them." Beckom said the corporate representatives told the employees they were "not going to sugar-coat it -- they will be closing." "So nearly 300 people are going to be out walking the street," said Beckom. "This morning, one of my better friends from out there called. He's a supervisor," said Beckom. Beckom now works as a Realtor for Josey, Young & Brady, and he wound up selling the Rite Aid employee a house last June. "He relocated from up north for this job, and now he calls me and he doesn't have a job anymore," said Beckom. "It hurts me, right along with them," he said. "This recession has hit me directly inside my home. And when it hits you like that, and then it hits the people you care about the most, you really feel it." He said the layoffs are going to come in stages, "at different times for different people." Every employee was handed a pre-printed envelope with individualized information, he said. "So this is not something new," he said. "They knew they were closing, if they went to the trouble to print up individualized envelopes for each associate, with an individual end date for each one. Some are leaving in August, some in June, on down the line. "This took some time and some contemplation on Rite Aid's part, to look at each individual and make that decision about when to let that individual go," he said. Beckom said he feels renaming the Eckerd stores with the Rite Aid brand was a big mistake. "I really do feel like, with that corporate buyout, they overextended themselves," said Beckom. "People knew Eckerd. When JC Penney bought Eckerd, they let the company keep the name. Everyone in the South knew who Eckerd was. But they put the Rite Aid name on it, and people around here just didn't know them as well as they knew Eckerd. I feel like if they had remained Eckerd, things would have turned out differently." Beckom said the transition will be tough for many of the employees. "Tim Lassetter, he's a county commissioner now, but that's all that man knows," said Beckom. "And I spent 15 years of my life with the company, but that didn't buy me any quarter with them." Things sometimes have a way of working out for the best, he said. Beckom devoted his full attention to real estate just when the market began to heat up again. "This turned out to be a good thing for me," said Beckom. "It kicked me out into reality. I needed to move on, anyway. I'm picking up listings and getting phone calls right and left. So things have a way of working out."


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