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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 5th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 27

Liquidation sales commence as customers and employees mourn looming closure of Orchard Supply

By Kasey Bubnash

It's been a little more than 10 years since Kelly White O'Neill became a self-described "serious customer" of Santa Maria's Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) store. 

As an avid gardener, do-it-yourselfer, and the owner of a historic home, O'Neill said she frequently stops in at OSH for its notoriously friendly, knowledgeable workforce and its unbeatable gardening department. She's a loyal user of the OSH rewards program and loves the mom-and-pop atmosphere that she said so many corporate stores lack.

So O'Neill was devastated when parent company Lowe's announced on Aug. 22 that it would be closing all 99 OSH stores in California, Oregon, and Florida by the end of this fiscal year. In a press release, Lowe's cited low earnings and a need to "focus on its core home improvement business" as the key reasons for shuttering the beloved chain.

Massive liquidation sales will run throughout all OSH locations for the next several weeks, according to the release, but devoted customers like O'Neill are still grappling with the news.


TTFN OSH
Orchard Supply Hardware stores are closing, and liquidation sales started on Aug. 23. Sales on all store products will continue well into September.
PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH

"The main thing for me is I'm kind of mall and big-box impaired," O'Neill said, laughing. "I've just never liked big, gaping, sprawling stores like that, so I always loved OSH because it was intimate, easy to navigate, and it still seemed to have everything you needed."

Most OSH locations offer similar services, but O'Neill said Santa Maria's store was truly something special. It offers a drive-up loading service for larger purchases that O'Neill said she has always loved, and it has a roster of expert employees on deck at all times. That includes one unnamed woman in the paint department who O'Neill said is "a paint savant or something."

Several other local OSH lovers said they'd most miss the store's small-town feel and uniquely helpful staff–especially the paint lady–on the Sun's Facebook page on Aug. 29. The loss of its gardening section, holiday decorations, and patio furniture will also be mourned, and most commenters shared the hope that OSH employees would find good jobs elsewhere. 

"Lowe's would be stupid not to hire these people," O'Neill said. "They're talented."

A manager at Santa Maria's OSH said employees are not allowed to comment on the liquidation.

OSH currently employs about 4,300 associates, according to Jackie Pardini Hartzell, director of public relations for Lowe's Companies Inc., including those at OSH's stores in Santa Maria, Goleta, and Pismo Beach. 

Lowe's, Hartzell said, is working to retain OSH employees throughout the liquidation process, and she said OSH staff will receive preferential status when applying for open positions at Lowe's stores. OSH associates will receive job placement assistance, Hartzell said, and all will be eligible for severance. 

"The most important thing is the effort we're making with our associates to help them transition to other Lowe's locations," Hartzell said, adding that 86 percent of all OSH stores are located within a 10 mile radius of a Lowe's. "We're really focusing on that right now."

The decision to close the chain wasn't an easy one to make, Hartzell said. Lowe's only just took ownership of OSH in 2013, after it had been owned by Sears for years. Orchard started as a nonprofit in San Jose in 1931, and eventually grew into the quaint hardware store chain it is today. 

But Hartzell said the decision to close was based solely on OSH's subpar profits. Its 2017 earnings, before interest and taxes, were negative $65 million on sales of approximately $605 million, according to Hartzell.

"We're always just looking at our projects and ensuring they meet our profitability standards," Hartzell said, "and ultimately we had to make a difficult decision." 


Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at kbubnash@santamariasun.com. 




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