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South Hill braces for full impact of closings / February 20, 2013
A gloomy mood has settled over South Hill with the impending shutdown of three of its mainstay employers, but the impact of the departures won’t be felt completely for months.

Until then, townspeople and local businesses can only guess at the force of the economic earthquake.

At Brian’s Steakhouse, owner Ronnie Wells said business is holding up — though for how long, neither he nor anyone else can truly say.

“I haven’t seen any decrease yet, but the impact really hasn’t hit yet either,” said Wells. “As far as Peebles is concerned, they’re still working.”

Brian’s provided lunches for IVC employees on a regular basis and has done catering jobs for IVC, Peebles, and Home Care Industries — all of which have announced closures since the start of the year, costing the South Hill area roughly 430 jobs.

Wells said that the full effect will come later, and not all at once.

“IVC and Peebles were in the top five of my biggest clients and at the end of the year there’s going to be an impact, but I won’t see it as much on a daily basis,” said Wells.

Signs that there were problems on the horizon came when IVC didn’t host its annual Christmas Party, and Peebles pulled its sponsorship from the annual South Hill Christmas Parade. It was the first time in over 20 years that the retailer hadn’t been front and center at the town Yule parade.

The concerns came to a head in January when Home Care Industries of La Crosse closed its doors, just eight days into 2013. IVC announced a week later that it would be closing its wood veneer manufacturing operation, although the company will keep a presence in South Hill as a grading and warehousing facility. The shutdown on the manufacturing side cost the area another 100 jobs.

Last week, Houston-based Stage Stores, the conglomerate parent of Peebles, announced the hardest blow to date: the closing of the Peebles corporate office, which harkened back to the days when the apparel and home furnishings retailer was independently based in South Hill. Stage plans to transfer 180 store support, merchandising and human resources positions to the Houston headquarters. The company will continue to operate the South Hill distribution center and the Peebles department store at the Town Square Shopping Center, which together account for about 170 jobs.

The triple whammy has people wondering how South Hill can possibly make up the jobs it is about to lose.

“I don’t know how we’ll replace them,” said Wells. “There’s just nothing. I was talking to a girl yesterday at Peebles corporate office and they can offer these people jobs in Houston, but to pull up a family and move to Houston is just not easily done.”

According to the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), Mecklenburg County had an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent before the business closings were announced. At last check, there were 1,237 unemployed members of the local workforce, raising the question of what the jobless rate will look like once hundreds more join their ranks.

Joyce Fogg, communications manager with the VEC, said the agency is going to offer dislocated worker programs’ Rapid Response Services via the Virginia Community College System.

Felicia McClenney, coordinator for the Rapid Response program, was not available for comment Tuesday, but VEC’s Fogg said that the Rapid Response team would be heading to South Hill soon to offer its services to displaced Peebles employees.

The VEC goes into hard-hit communities with the Rapid Response team and helps workers file unemployment claims and seek benefits.

While the job market in South Hill has suffered a huge blow, it would take much more to sink South Hill and her residents, said Wells.

“We are going to get through it,” said Wells, “South Hill is a strong community, a family, and we are going to get through this together.”

Frank Malone, director of the South Hill Chamber of Commerce, said that the citizens of South Hill are able to overcome most anything because “we’ve got good working folks here and they know their stuff.”

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All you people that voted for Obama, what do you have to say now? You still going to blame Bush for the bad economy? Ever heard the phrase "I told you so?" And it is just going to get worse!


South Hill needs a new mayor and a new town manager. What you are seeing is an abysmal lack of leadership that benefits the few rather than the many.

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