Closing businesses alarm some Columbia Co. customers

By: Katie Beasley Email
By: Katie Beasley Email
Ryan's on Bobby Jones

The Ryan's on Bobby Jones closed its doors last week, putting 46 employees out of work. (WRDW-TV / Jan. 25, 2012)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

MARTINEZ, Ga. -- It's been a rough few weeks for national chain businesses in Columbia County. First, three Food Lion locations announced they are closing. Then layoffs hit Club Car on Washington Road.

Now, the Ryan's buffet restaurant on Bobby Jones has shut its doors, laying off nearly 50 employees -- but Columbia County leaders say growth is right around the corner.

"This Ryan's has been here for as long as I can remember; I can remember eating here when I was a kid. It's kind of tough to see businesses shut down this way is kinda scary," said Whitney Poss, who lives in Columbia County.

Ryan's shut down last week with little notice for the 46 employees.

"It's kind of sad for the employees that they just threw it on them right at the last minute," Poss said. "The waitress that we had was planning a cruise with her family, but this may put a damper on things."

The corporate office says this location and 80 others are being closed because they are "under performing."

"I guess it's just signs of the times," Poss said.

But county leaders say it's also a sign of something else.

"Obviously the economy -- I'm sure -- played a role in it ... but I also feel like the competition was very strong," explained Richard Harmon, director of Columbia County Development Services.

And Ryan's isn't the only chain business making drastic moves because of competition -- earlier this month Food Lion announced three Columbia County locations will close.

"When you start seeing multiple businesses closing down, all within 30, 60, 90 days ... that doesn't look good," Harmon said.

Poss says it's hard to understand it all.

"One minute everybody's telling you things are looking better, the unemployment numbers are going down and then stuff like this happens," Poss said.

And while this may be a lull, development leaders say things are looking up overall.

"We're beginning to see more businesses starting to open up -- not only that -- but we know that more businesses are coming because of the inquiries. Yes ... we're losing, but we're going to gain. It's coming right back," Harmon said.

Several businesses are set to open later this year in the Marshall Square area, including a 50,000 square foot fitness center.

The latest unemployment rate in Columbia County is right around 7 percent, which is better than the state's 9.7 percent average.

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