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Woodbine farmers' co-op to weigh merger Southern States store might join Mount Airy site


Two months after Westminster Southern States Cooperative closed, stockholders in Southern States' Woodbine operation will decide next month whether to shut down and merge with the Mount Airy store.

After years of losses and increasing debt, farmer-owners had little choice but to close the Westminster operation, but Southern States officials say the Woodbine co-op is not in financial difficulty.

"This is part of an ongoing review that we've been into pretty intensively for the last 10 years," said Jerry Gass, director of communications for the Virginia-based farm and gardening supplies stores. He said Southern States has consolidated vTC stores in North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia and Delaware, in addition to Maryland, to adjust to changes in demand for agricultural and suburban markets.

The proposed Woodbine-Mount Airy consolidation would provide better service for customers and stockholders in both locations, Gass said.

The 46-year-old Woodbine co-op is hampered by a small showroom and a deteriorating building with limited parking, said manager Ann Carpenter. Meanwhile, Mount Airy's Southern States home and gardening store is moving into larger quarters, a 12,000-square-foot space in Foodrite Shopping Center at South Main Street and Ridgeville Boulevard. The space was left vacant with the closing of a Jamesway store in 1995.

Feed and farm-supplies sales will remain at the Mount Airy store on Center Street.

Woodbine co-op's seven-member board of directors "is unanimous in thinking that this is the best way to go," said John Murray, board chairman. He said he has not heard opposition from members.

Murray, who owns a small farm in Glenelg, got involved in the Woodbine cooperative because of his children's participation in 4-H. "Our kind of operation is the reason there isn't as much money in Southern States' farm business as before," he said.

Murray said the change from farms to subdivisions in the Woodbine and Mount Airy areas has been visible in the past few years. He said the consolidation will protect members' equity.

James Steele, owner of a Woodbine horse farm, has been a member of the local cooperative for 25 years. He said he hasn't reviewed the information on the proposed consolidation, but has bought items from the Mount Airy cooperative.

Carpenter described the consolidation plan as "an excellent move."

Woodbine would gain space by moving its merchandise into the Mount Airy gardening and home store, Carpenter said. "We'll have room to put all the birdseed where you can find it."

Carpenter said the Woodbine co-op's route delivery schedule will be expanded to serve customers of both cooperatives if stockholders approve the consolidation.

The Woodbine co-op's three full-time employees would retain their jobs under the proposed consolidation. Stockholders are scheduled to vote on the proposal Feb. 24.

In Westminster, the 62-year-old cooperative that closed had not made a profit since 1990. The co-op's 1995 annual report listed its volume of business at $3.2 million, with a loss of $175,287.

District manager Jim McCarron said the Westminster co-op had debts of $2.4 million and members' equity had been reduced to the value of the cooperative's real estate.

McCarron has said that cooperatives in Hampstead and Taneytown are expected to remain open, in addition to the Mount Airy cooperative.

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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