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ATLANTA-Home Depot has decided to end its EXPO business in order to focus its resources on its core “orange box” stores. The locally based company plans to close 48 locations of EXPO Design Center stores, YardBIRDS stores, Design Center stores and HD Bath across the country. Approximately 5,000 employees will be impacted by the closings, in addition to another 2,000 employees that will be affected during a restructuring of the home improvement giant’s support staff. A total of 2% of Home Depot’s workforce will be cut.

“The EXPO business has not performed well financially and is not expected to anytime soon,” the company published in a release. “Even during the recent housing boom, it was not a strong business. It has weakened significantly as the demand for big ticket design and decor projects has declined in the current economic environment.”

In November, GlobeSt.com reported that the company’s total sales could be down 8% for the year. Home Depot’s recent press release confirmed the expectation of that number, and says it will continue with plans to open 12 additional locations in 2009. “Looking forward, the company anticipates continued weakness in sales related to the broader economic downturn, but will continue to invest in customer service in its core Home Depot stores, while optimizing its capital allocation,” the release stated.

The closings are a sign of the continuing equity problem Americans are facing, says Marc Strauss, vice president of investments and senior director for Marcus & Millichap’s national retail group. “Home prices are down in 70% of the markets around the US, and people don’t have the ability to get cash to do major, high-end renovations,” which is what these EXPO stores were offering, he tells GlobeSt.com. “People have used up their home equity, or as Marcus & Millichap likes to say, their personal ATM machines.”

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