The 74-year-old Wholesale Distributors Association has discontinued operations by a vote of its board, primarily due to declining participation. The Southern Wholesalers Association is inviting former WDA members to join SWA.

"SWA is very sorry to see them go," said Lee Steinhouse, president of Nashville, Tenn.-based Steinhouse Supply and chairman of SWA. "We had been negotiating with them this summer about combining conventions in 2005 if not sooner."

Executives from each association attended the other's annual convention in 2002.

A letter from SWA's executive board sent to former WDA members said: "WDA has been a meaningful and well respected regional association for the past 74 years. As officers of SWA, we are sorry to learn of the unfortunate circumstances which have led to the decision to dissolve the association.

"From our perspective, regional associations provide unique opportunities to develop friendships and camaraderie among an industry that has become increasingly competitive. Face-to-face meetings with fellow wholesalers and key suppliers enrich our lives and the relationships that are the foundation of our businesses and the industry."

The letter included an invitation to attend SWA's fall regional meetings and its 75th annual convention in March. SWA also said in the letter that depending on response, it would help organize a special reunion or networking session of former WDA members at the SWA convention.

SWA will make formal application to ASA for the states of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma, said Frank Rizzo, executive vice president of SWA. No determination has been made to date regarding Colorado and New Mexico.

According to the new ASA bylaws, former WDA members will also have the opportunity to join ASA directly without joining a regional association, said Inge Calderon, executive vice president of ASA. However, she added, "ASA plans to work with the regional associations to promote dual membership, since we believe it provides more proportionate value."

Declining participation in WDA activities that made future commitments for convention and meeting space infeasible financially was primary cause for the dissolution, sources said.