Closings and rumors of closings are dominating the business scene, with familiar names including J.C. Penney, Gander Mountain, Family Christian Stores and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory creating news:

  • Family Christian, which has sold inspiration-themed merchandise for 85 years, has announced it is closing its 240 retail locations, including Waco’s in Central Texas Marketplace. The store has had a presence in Waco since 1980, moving to Central Texas Marketplace two years ago.

“We had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” President Chuck Bengochea said in a press release. “Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline. In addition, we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market.”

No word yet when a liquidation sale will begin at the Waco shop.

  • Gander Mountain, which operates 162 stores specializing in outdoors merchandise, including one at South Valley Mills Drive and Interstate 35, has been the target of speculation in recent days that it is preparing to file for bankruptcy protection.

The reports have created “concern among some of our customers, employees and trade partners,” according to a company press release.

While not specifically addressing the question of whether it is considering a bankruptcy filing, it acknowledged it has “undertaken a best-practices approach to review our strategic options specific to positioning the company for long-term success.” It has retained the services of investment banking company Houlihan Lokey to provide independent advice.

  • Iconic retailer J.C. Penney announced Friday it is closing up to 140 stores, about one of every seven in its chain, and offering early retirement to 6,000 employees. The company released a statement saying the moves are meant “to effectively compete against the growing threat of online retailers.”

Penney’s said it continues to prepare its closing list, which it will reveal in March. Reports have surfaced that it is looking most closely at smaller, underperforming locations. The Penney’s store in Waco serves as an anchor for Richland Mall.

  • The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory ended its seven-year run at Richland Mall on Friday, closing to make room for an expansion by Bath & Body Works, mall manager Kandace Menning said.

Central Freight

Waco-based Central Freight Lines is poised to buy Virginia-based Wilson Trucking, a 91-year-old carrier with 29 terminals in the southeastern United States, the company reports.

“This expansion to the entire southeastern U.S. and Puerto Rico improves our long-term competitive position in the less-than-truckload and distribution markets and allows us to give our customers the extended coverage they’ve been asking for,” Central Freight President and CEO Don Orr said.

Orr said Central Freight has received 42 highway safety awards from national and state industry groups in the past 12 years and looks forward to providing similar service in the Southeast.

Texas Roadhouse

Jose Olvera, a butcher at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant near Waco’s traffic circle, is one of 112 professional meat cutters around the country vying for the title Texas Roadhouse Meat Cutter of the Year, which carries with it a grand prize of $20,000.

The competition starts March 7 with three regional contests. The final and semifinal rounds take place March 8 at The Ice Factory skating rink in Kissimmee, Florida, “where the frigid conditions and large venue make it the perfect place to test the skills of master meat cutters,” according to a press release from Texas Roadhouse.

Each participant receives 25 to 30 pounds of beef, consisting of one sirloin, one tenderloin and one rib-eye to cut. The winner is the cutter who yields the most steaks, with the highest quality cut in the least amount of time. All cutting is done at a chilly 38 degrees.

“Meat cutting is truly a lost art,” said Jason Mennie with Texas Roadhouse. “These talented men and women are some of the most valued members of our restaurant teams. They take great pride in every steak we serve our guests. The precision and skill that goes into this job is one we don’t take for granted, so we recognize and reward our meat cutters with this national competition.”

Texas Roadhouse operates more than 490 locations in 49 states and six countries.

Gas prices

Gas prices are falling, though the plunge could reverse course quickly as refineries start maintenance associated with converting to the production of summer-blend gasoline.

The statewide average for regular unleaded slipped by 2 cents to $2.08 this past week, according to AAA Texas. Waco’s average stood at $2.05 on Friday, according to Motorists in El Paso were paying the most in the state at $2.13 a gallon, while those in Corpus Christi and San Antonio were paying the least, at $2.02.

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