Family owned department store will remain open for three to five more months

by: Photo By Tony Ahern - Jennifer and John Hatfield soon will be closing their family owned department store.

   March 19, 2003 — A Madras landmark and the core of the downtown shopping area is expected to shut it doors in three to five months.
   "This is a head decision, not a heart decision," said John Hatfield, who along with his wife, Jennifer, has owned the store since 1995. John has managed the Madras Hatfield's since 1977.
   The Hatfields will also close their small satellite store in Prineville, likely sometime after the Madras doors close. Combined, the stores have 15 employees, 12 at the Madras store.
   Hatfield said the Madras store has been operating at a loss for the past year or so. He said he has resisted closing in hopes that the local economy would improve. Last year he thought the Cogentrix project and the state prison would help salvage the business. When Cogentrix faded and the state prison was mothballed last fall, Hatfield said he knew the store wouldn't survive.
   "What can you do? Looking into the crystal ball, there's not a lot of hope," said Hatfield. "There are no carrots out there."
   The owners noted they tried to manage through the down economy by more carefully watching their overhead, inventory control and by reducing employee hours. However, the industry-wide difficulties were too large to overcome.
   Community department stores, which flourished until regional malls substantially changed shopping habits a few decades ago, are a diminishing breed. Now many malls are also hurting as "big box" discount stores are dominating the low-price market and specialty and designer stores draw the bulk of customers for higher-end products.
   Shortly after the Christmas season, the Emporium, an Oregon-based company that, like Hatfield's, catered to the mid-range market, filed Chapter 11.
   "This is the most challenging business climate in the soft goods industry in my forty years in the business," said Hatfield.
   The 20,000 square-foot, two-story building that housed Hatfield's is owned by Fred McCoulou, whose family operated a department store and pharmacy at the location before the Hatfields purchased it.
   During the 1970s the Hatfield family owned six stores -- from Moses Lake, Wash. to Bend -- before the explosion of malls radically changed shopping habits. By the mid-1990s, the Madras Hatfield's was the last remaining of the family chain.
   The decision to close has been tough emotionally on the family, no more so than when the Hatfields talk about the many dedicated longterm employees that have blessed the business. Several employees have worked more than two decades for Hatfields, many who work into their 70s and even 80s.
   "You just don't find that anymore," said John, who added that the family was also very appreciative of the store's many longtime, loyal customers.
   The history of Hatfield's in Madras goes back to 1958, when John's father, Don, opened a store at the present site of the Hospital Auxiliary store. It was managed by John's grandfather. It remained there until 1966, when the Hatfields moved the business to its present location.
   In the 1970s, Don and Teresa Hatfield opened stores at the Bend Plaza, Moses Lake, Wash., Pendleton, Walla Walla and Redmond.
   "We still have people coming in who say they miss our Bend store (which closed in 1984) and lots who say they miss our Redmond store (which closed in 1993)," said Hatfield.
   As for the future, John, 53, has recently entered the wholesale business, purchasing a large quantity of plastic plumbing and general pipe fittings, plus assorted power tools and equipment, from a Taiwan manufacture. The tools are packaged under a Hatfield logo. He's working to sell the products to retail outlets.
   As for the present, the Hatfields will keep the doors open for a few more months and begin selling off inventory. Then, no one will know where to go to say they miss the Madras store.
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