ANDROSCOGGIN VALLEY — Two businesses announced last week that they will be closing operations in the Berlin-Gorham area this fall.
Save-A-Lot grocery store in Gorham will close Tuesday, Sept 3, while Citizens Bank notified customers that the Berlin branch is closing on Wednesday, Nov. 20.
Buckeye Foods President John Hammontree purchased the Save-A-Lot store 10 years ago in order to keep it operating. He said Shaw’s Supermarket, the owner at the time, planned to close it due to a lack of sales and profitability.
“I own and operate several other Save-A-Lot locations and felt I could turn it around. We successfully grew sales during the first three years, improving store conditions and adding promotions such as our three-day meat sales each month,” Hammontree said.
But over the past several years, he said, store sales have softened and expenses have increased. With his lease expiring, Hammontree said he felt the time had come to close the store.
He indicated the decision was not an easy one.
“I love the town of Gorham and the people who live in the area. My employees are some of the nicest and hardest-working people I know, and I wish them all the very best,” he said.
Hammontree said he operates a Save-A-Lot store in South Paris, Maine, if customers would like to continue to buy the store’s products.
Save-A-Lot is owned by the Canadian private equity firm Onex and has about 1,230 stores in the country. Many, like the Gorham store, are operated by independent licensees.
Save-A-Lot describes itself as a discount grocery chain with smaller stores providing both national and private-label products at affordable prices. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own bags and many items are displayed in their cardboard shipping boxes.
A May 2019 article by Reuters news service described the corporation as struggling with increased competition and a heavy debt load and said Onex was exploring selling all or part of the company.
The Gorham Save-A-Lot was the only one in New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, in a letter dated Aug. 16, Citizens Bank told its customers that it the branch at 173 Pleasant St. in Berlin is set to close Nov. 20.
Bank spokesman Rory Sheehan said Citizens continues “to evaluate, evolve and adjust our branch strategy across our network and can confirm that we have decided to close out Berlin, N.H., branch on Nov. 20.”
Sheehan said Citizens understands the closure will change the banking landscape in Berlin but occasionally they have to make the difficult decision to close a branch.
“In doing so, we conduct a thorough review of the community and the potential impacts of a closure before making the business decision to close a location,” he wrote in an email exchange.
Sheehan said Citizens values its customers and will make every effort to transition them to the nearest local branch as seamlessly as possible. In addition, he said Citizens will continue to invest in its digital and mobile capabilities to allow customers to bank with them in any location.
When the Citizens branch closes in Berlin closes, Sheehan said the closest branch will be in Colebrook.
Sheehan said, however, a fully functioning Citizens Bank ATM will remain and the bank offers online and mobile services including mobile deposit.
There are five employees at the Berlin Branch. Sheehan said when a branch is closed, the bank encourages employees to apply for open positions within the company and historically has great success assisting colleagues with continued employment.
Citizens Bank has operated a branch on Pleasant Street since 1990.