A.J. Wright Closes

(NECN: Peter Howe, Malden, Mass.) A huge layoff announcement hit New England Friday: TJX Cos., the parent company of the A.J. Wright deep-discount clothing and home-goods stores, said it will close 71 A.J. Wright stores nationally, terminating 4,400 people's jobs.

Among the locations to be closed are 16 in New England, as well as a distribution center in Fall River and a corporate headquarters in Framingham, Mass. Besides the stores being closed outright, another 91 will be temporarily closed for about eight weeks in early spring, then reopened under other TJX brands: T.J. Maxx, Marshall's, and Home Goods.

The moves will have by far their biggest impact in lower-income neighborhoods -- A.J. Wright's market niche -- where shoppers say they badly need the discount prices -- and the communities desperately need the jobs.

"I like it, shopping over here; it's nice, and the price is good,'' said Nilsa Perez, who comes from Boston's Dorchester neighborhood to a soon-to-be-closed A.J. Wright in East Somerville. She said she most appreciates the low prices on "kids' clothes, and now, for Christmas, the toys that they like.''

Immaculee Aubourg of Cambridge said, "I'm here all the time, because that's where I get all my stuff, and they're cheap. Clothing, stuff for your house, and my grandkids.'' The Somerville outlet is right next to a target, but Aubourg said, "Target has good stuff, but A.J. Wright, you can find nice stuff, and cheaper, so that's why I like A.J. Wright.''

TJX said in Massachusetts, it will close the A.J. Wright stores in Fitchburg, Malden, Medford, Methuen, New Bedford, Quincy, Somerville, Springfield (Lowe's Plaza),
Waltham, and Worcester (Perkins Farms Plaza). Also closing are Connecticut stores in Bridgeport, Hamden, West Haven, and Wethersfield, and locations in Nashua, N.H., and East Providence, R.I.

Bruno Gatti, who shops two or three times a week at the Malden, Mass., location, said he's stunned -- and heartbroken for the many cashiers and store employees he's come to be friendly with. "Everybody's losing their job. It's crazy, especially the way the economy's going now. It's crazy. It's nuts.''

"I can't see why they'd be closing. They're making money. I mean, this place is always crowded ... I can't believe they're actually closing. I'm amazed. I would never expect this place to close up, especially with the business they do.''

Mike Cardarelli of Malden said no other store nearby can compete with A.J. Wright's prices. "They really have good buys,'' Cardarelli said, adding, "The cashiers, you see them all the time, they talk to you, they're like family.''

Store employees at several locatiosn said they'd been ordered not to talk to reporters and were afraid they would get fired prematurely if they spoke to NECN.

The company says employees "will have the opportunity to be compensated at least through the holiday season, and most will remain employed through late January. Further, TJX will be providing enhanced severance and other assistance following this period to help with the transition.'' TJX said it is making efforts to offer a number of the 4,400 workers, most of whom are part-time, jobs at other TJX stores.

CEO Carol Meyrowitz issued a statement saying: "While I believe this move makes us a much stronger company and will benefit TJX in both the near term and long term, it was not an easy decision as many positions will be eliminated ...However, it will allow us to focus our financial and managerial resources on our highest return businesses, all of which have significant growth opportunities."

Wall Street applauded the move, bidding TJX shares up 11 cents, or 0.2 percent, on Friday.

Industry expert Mike Paglia of Kantar Retail calls it a bottom-line decision to weed out a weak brand.

"I think TJX is realizing that maybe their [storefront] portfolio was a little too diverse," with four different value-oriented brands, Paglia said. The retail industry is notorious for ruthlessly closing down stores that don't hit profit goals. "If a given store in a given location doesn't meet these thresholds, then this is not an uncommon move for a retailer" to shut down stores or entire brands. "They want to remain profitable.''

But Bruno Gatti worries about his Malden hometown losing access to a great-priced store, and losing dozens of jobs. "I feel bad for everybody that's working there right now,  especially with the holidays coming up,'' Gatti said. "You've got Christmas. You've got New Year's. What are these people going to do?''

With videographer Sean G. Colahan

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