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Hatfield's closing marks end of department store era

Family business a Madras fixture since 1958

by: Photo By Holly Gill - Don, left, Jennifer and John Hatfield.

By Holly M. Gill
   News Editor
   It was an emotional moment for John Hatfield when he closed Hatfield's Department Store for the last time on Friday, July 25.
   Looking back over the past few months, and the difficult decision to close the Madras store, Hatfield, 53, recalled the three toughest times. "First was deciding to do it, and then telling the help, and probably locking the door tonight."
   Hatfield's Department Store has been a fixture in downtown Madras since 1958, when Hatfield's father, Don Hatfield, opened the business at the site of the Opal Day Spa, next door to the current store. In 1966, Don Hatfield moved the business to its current location.
   The younger Hatfield bought the shoe department from his father in 1974, and began managing the entire store in 1977. He and his wife Jennifer purchased the store from his father in 1995, but his father continued to help him out. "He's been my jack-of-all-trades since he retired," said Hatfield.
   At one time, the Hatfields owned six stores, including stores in Redmond, Bend, Pendleton, and Walla Walla and Moses Lake, Wash. All but the newer Prineville store have closed, as people's shopping habits have evolved.
   Hatfield explained the trend, "The department store's prime decade was the '70s. Then, they moved into strip malls, then covered malls, and then big box stores. The latest thing is a strip mall made up of big box stores," he said, referring to large department stores such as Target and Wal-Mart.
   He's pleased that they have been able to keep the smaller Prineville store open. "We're trying a different concept -- just women's clothing and shoes."
   Hatfield started working at the Madras store as a freshman in high school, and remembers hanging around the store before that. Some of his favorite memories came much later, though.
   "I enjoyed taking salespeople to markets," he said. "We always had a good time."
   When they get the store cleaned out, he's looking forward to having Saturdays off. "I won't miss six 11-hour days (every week)," Hatfield said.
   He will miss the longstanding relationships with salespeople and loyal customers. "We've had less turnover than most stores. Some of our employees worked into their 70s and 80s. They've been like family."
   A younger member of their longtime employee family, Carol Towell, was one of the last two employees during the final days of the business. She has worked at Hatfield's for 17 years, including stints at the Redmond and Prineville stores.
   "I grew up here in Madras and I hate it (the closing) for the town," Towell said. "In the '60s, the town had three department stores, plus two dress shops and two men's shops. Now, we can't even support one."
   "People's shopping habits have changed," she said. Instead of shopping locally, where there are fewer choices, people gather up their kids and go to Redmond or Bend, "and do their shopping, go to the movies and a restaurant, and make a day of it."
   As for the Hatfields, Towell said she sees them moving on to bigger and better things. "They'll do great, no matter what they do."
   Barbara Metteer, a Madras resident who has been a customer since the store opened and was there shopping on the store's last day of business, said she hates to see the store closing. "What's going to happen to Madras when all the stores close?" she asked.
   Another longtime customer, Sue Hereford, said she was surprised to learn that the store was closing. "I've been a customer for 20-some years, and I liked their merchandise very much."
   She will also miss the personal attention. "I know them and they know me," Hereford said, adding, "I wish them a lot of luck."
   The Hatfields have been hard at work planning their future. Last year, Hatfield went to Taiwan and got involved with a company that produces air compressors, pneumatic tools and PVC fittings for plumbing. He plans to sell them under his own label.
   "About a year ago, I knew things weren't looking too good for retail, so I took advantage of the opportunity to go into this business," he explained.
   Last fall, Hatfield received nine tons of PVC fittings, six tons of pneumatic nail and staple guns, and about one ton of air compressors, all now in storage in a large room in the basement of the Hatfield's store, where he will also maintain an office.
   So far, he hasn't spent much time marketing the products, but that will soon change. The Hatfields expect to vacate the upper floor of the store by Friday, and then he will have more time to devote to finding customers through telephone sales and over the Internet.
   On the store's last day, Jennifer Hatfield was busy with a visiting relative and the Jefferson County Fair. When Hatfield's doors closed at 5:30 p.m., she was performing with the Juniper Clickin' Cloggers at the fair.
   Jennifer Hatfield has moved on to a new phase in her life, and said she missed out on much of the final month at the store. At the end of June, she began taking classes on the Cascade Campus of Eastern Oregon University, in Bend, to renew her teaching certification, and receive a reading endorsement.
   In the late 1970s, she taught third grade in Culver for four years before she and John started their own family. Now that their two children, Joshua and Kayla, are grown, she's excited to be returning to teaching. "I loved it when I taught," she said.
   She will be recertified in August, and plans to teach or substitute teach this fall.
   Former Madras resident Fred McCaulou, of Sisters, owns the 20,000-square-foot, two-story building, which housed the Hatfield's Department Store.
   McCaulou, who owns and manages Sisters Feed & Supply, said the Hatfield's building is for sale or lease. "We don't have specific plans for it. We have had inquiries, but a lot were interested in a smaller place." Those interested in the building can contact Mike Ahern at Coldwell Banker Dick Dodson Realty.