More anchor businesses quit

April 13, 2009

By Staff

Dale Timmons, of Issaquah, purchases a case of motor oil at Joe’s on Northwest Gilman Boulevard on April 10, the day of the liquidation sale announcement. By Greg Farrar

Dale Timmons, of Issaquah, purchases a case of motor oil at Joe’s on Northwest Gilman Boulevard on April 10, the day of the liquidation sale announcement. By Greg Farrar

On the first day of its going-out-of-business sale, Joe’s was packed with bargain hunters angling for deals on skis, tents and other sporting goods.

Customers jammed the Northwest Gilman Boulevard store April 10, a day after Gordon Brothers Group, a Boston-based liquidator, announced it would close the chain. Joe’s filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early March. Executives hoped to find a buyer for the beleaguered chain, but only liquidators submitted bids.

Frank Morton, a principal at Gordon Brothers, said the Issaquah store and 30 others would close after all of the merchandise is sold. Given the popularity of the merchandise, Morton estimated the liquidation sale would be complete in “weeks rather than months.” The store opened in August 1999.Items at the store were marked down 10 percent to 30 percent last week. The prospect of discounts drew shoppers like Issaquah resident Dale Timmons. He bought a case of motor oil, marked down 10 percent.

“I expected to see better markdowns, but I needed oil, so I’m buying it,” he said.

Ron Barringham, of Graham, picked up a generator and a Leatherman multipurpose tool. Barringham, who just bought a recreational vehicle, said he was using the sale as an opportunity to stock up.

Joe’s employees declined interview requests and referred calls to corporate headquarters in Wilsonville, Ore. A company spokeswoman said she could no longer comment on behalf of the chain.

Similar stores generate between $50,000 and $100,000 in sales tax revenue for the city. Autumn Monahan, city public information officer, said the shutdown does not mean the city will lose the dollars. Because other local retailers offer some of the same items, the city could recoup the revenue, she said.

REI has a store in a Northwest Gilman Boulevard shopping plaza less than a mile from Joe’s. Megan Behrbaum, a spokeswoman for Kent-based REI, described the Joe’s shutdown as a loss for the entire sporting goods industry.

“Joe’s has been around for 57 years, and inspired so many people to live active, healthy lifestyles,” she said.

Morton said Joe’s is the latest casualty of the recession. Gordon Brothers also handled liquidation sales for Linens-N-Things and Circuit City. A Linens-N-Things store in Pickering Place shut down last year when the national chain closed.

“We’ve seen a lot of retailers fall by the wayside in these tough economic times,” Morton said.

Joe’s is the latest national retailer to close a store in Issaquah. Albertsons closed its East Lake Sammamish Parkway store last April.

Edward Orkney, a World War II Army Air Corps pilot, founded Joe’s in 1952. Known as G.I. Joe’s, the store grew to a chain with stores across Oregon, Washington and Idaho. A private equity firm bought the retailer in 2007 and changed its name to Joe’s.

Timmons recalls shopping at the old G.I. Joe’s when he lived in Portland several years ago.

“G.I. Joe’s has been around since they were just an Army surplus store,” he said.

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

Renton Highlands grocer closes this week

By Jim Feehan

John and Pam Lowney, owners of IGA Renton Foods, stand at the checkout lines of their store that closes this week due to a downturn in the economy. By Jim Feehan

John and Pam Lowney, owners of IGA Renton Foods, stand at the checkout lines of their store that closes this week due to a downturn in the economy. By Jim Feehan

The Renton IGA Foods grocery store will shut its doors this week, the victim of the now 2-year-old recession.

Owner John Lowney said beginning in mid-January, the store had sales drop by 15 percent, and they never recovered.

“In this business, that’s insurmountable,” he said. “The economy drove this store into the red.”

The store on Southeast 128th Street at 164th Avenue Southeast, a staple in the Liberty High School community, is selling its remaining items at 40 percent. Five full- and part-time workers will be affected by the closure.

Lowney bought the store in 2000, when it was named Briarwood Market. Two years later, he changed the name to Renton IGA Foods. At its peak, the store employed 26 full- and part-time employees, he said.

In an era of big chain grocery stores, warehouse markets and mass merchandisers, such as Wal-Mart and Target, selling food, Renton IGA Foods was truly a mom-and-pop store. Lowney and his wife, Pam, would each put in 10-hour days, seven days a week.

“The moment he left the house for the store, I couldn’t wait to get there to see him,” Pam Lowney said.

When they weren’t working at the store, they’d exercise together at a nearby gym.

Lowney said he first noticed business begin to slide in September and he started to downsize his workforce.

Lowney, 56, has been in the grocery business for 40 years. He began as a box boy at a grocery store in Lakewood. He met Pam at a grocery store where they both worked.

The couple has been active in Liberty High School athletics. Last fall, they sponsored a hamburger stand at Liberty Stadium with the proceeds benefiting the school’s athletic department.

“We helped a lot of Liberty kids by providing them their first jobs,” Pam Lowney said. “That’s something I’m really going to miss. We’ve watched a lot of those kids grow up over the years.”

The closure has been tough on customers, too.

“Oftentimes, we don’t appreciate the glow which local businesses bring to a neighborhood until their store light is dimmed,” said Imelda Dulcich, of Newcastle, who has two children attending Liberty.

The Lowneys are good members of the community, generous with their time and donations, Dulcich said.

“Pam and John Lowney were great supporter of our schools,” she said.  “They were particularly helpful to the Liberty football program, offering hamburgers, hotdogs and the works to the football survival program, as well as many of the fundraising tailgaters.”

The survival program marks the completion of summer football practices at Liberty. The store’s deli was also a popular spot for Liberty students.

John Ulness, who lives across the street from the store, said he was saddened to hear of the closure.

“The store was convenient and the staff was always friendly,” he said.

The nearest grocery store is a little more than a mile west, in Renton.

The IGA joins a list of list of several Eastside grocers who have closed in the past year. Thriftway and Greenfresh Market in Renton have closed. Also gone are QFC in Fairwood, Red Apple Market in Newport Hills and the Albertsons in Issaquah.

John Lowney said he’d stay in the profession.

“I’ll take a few months off, but I’ll end up in the grocery business,” he said. “This is something I’ve done for 40 years.”

Reach Reporter Jim Feehan at 392-6434, ext. 239, or jfeehan@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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