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Pamida's swan song

As Neil Sedaka once crooned, "breaking up is hard to do."

If you have been to the Pamida store in New Richmond lately, you get the definite sense that not only are the town and the store breaking up with each other, but the store itself is "breaking up."

Inside, the 43,000-square-foot store continues to shrink as merchandise moves out and portable walls close in around the checkout area. There are still a few deals to be had, at up to 60 percent off remaining items, but time is running out.

Slated to close for good sometime in mid-April, empty shelves and "slim pickins" are mostly what is left of New Richmond's first major retail store originally built in 1989.

According to Bob Barbian New Richmond's economic and planning director, Econofoods was to be an anchor store on the north side of the Pamida property, with Pamida on the south end. Developer T.F. James Company's plan was to have a strip mall connecting the two large stores.

Pamida ended up being the only company to build on the property, which has been owned by the Erickson family for about the past eight years, according to Steve Erickson.

"It's time for that property to be developed into a real nice retail space to enhance that area of New Richmond," Erickson said. "The location is inside the area where all the other development has been taking place, so it should be a great site."

Erickson said his family intends to sell the property rather than develop it themselves. When the Ericksons sold their family-owned grocery store, Econofoods in downtown New Richmond, in approximately 1999 to Nash Finch, one of the buyer's options was to relocate the grocery store to the Pamida site, said Erickson.

"Nash-Finch did not exercise that option at the time and now we are out of the grocery business," Erickson said. "We are selling many of our holdings at this point, with the New Richmond Pamida site being one of them."

In the beginning

The year was 1989, the mayor of New Richmond was Billy Smith and the first manager of Pamida, which held its grand opening Oct. 30, was Doug Mills.

The Oct. 5, 1989 issue of the New Richmond News reported that the new retail store "features a race track floor layout, a full-line apparel area, located in the center of the store and its traditional hardlines merchandise as well as seasonal items."

The newspaper also mentioned the contemporary glass and chrome fixtures to be installed throughout the store, the modern scanning registers and the 60-plus employees the store would hire.

"It was our first fairly big box store," commented Dennis Horner, current New Richmond city administrator/utility manager. "Pamida came and people were happy and excited; it was new and a lot of people shopped there."

A photo from the Nov. 2, 1989 issue of the News shows a large crowd in front of Pamida for the ribbon cutting ceremony. Included in the ceremony were Mayor Billy Smith, Pamida Manager Doug Mills and assistant managers Russ Blassuis and Jean Larson.

Pamida continued to maintain their business for the next 18-plus years, based on the strong support of the community and later bolstered by their pharmacy sales, despite a succession of management changes.

Then Wal-Mart came to town. Although Pamida vowed to hang tough against the new competition, they were ultimately undone and their corporate office decided the New Richmond and Amery Pamida stores would close in mid-April this year.

Maribeth Driscoll was on the City Council when Pamida was built. She said she has been a customer for years and hates to see the store go.

"I have appreciated having Pamida in town," Driscoll said. "Anytime a store of that size closes, I think it frightens potential businesses from coming into the town."

Wayne Perzee, retail consultant hired by Pamida to help with the store's closing, said there is no official date that Pamida's doors will close.

"The actual closing date is determined by the rate of sales," Perzee explained. "Merchandise is moving fast from the New Richmond store."

What will come

This leaves New Richmond with yet another large retail facility sitting empty. Reminiscent of County Market, which closed a year and a half ago, Pamida will now sit idle unless and until a new tenant can be found to fill the space.

Jerry Brown, newly hired economic development director of New Richmond, has already compiled a list of 24 retailers who have moved into other closed Pamida stores across the country.

"There are so many great things going on in New Richmond that we are very saddened to lose an old retail friend like Pamida," Brown said. "Certainly the city will cooperate any way we can to help Pamida's licensed agent bring a new retail business to town."

Brown said he would love to hear from the citizens of New Richmond as to their choices for a replacement retail establishment at the Pamida location.

The list Brown has of stores that took over other closed Pamida facilities is as follows:

Save-A-Lot, Savers Thrift Store, Southerlands Home Improvements, Theisen Supply Inc., Tractor Supply, Tollefson's Rental Group, Watseka "Big R" Stores, Dollar Castle, Dollar General, Downtown Threads, Duckwall-ALCO, Family Dollar, General Parts, Goodwill Industries, Houchens Industries, Hy Vee, Just-A-Buck, Liquidation World, MAACO, Niemann Foods, Orscheln Farm & Home, Peebles (Stage Stores), Precision Auto Care and Roundy's.

"We continue to hound Target, Kohl's, Applebees and Perkins," Brown explained, "so please eliminate them from your suggestions because they aren't coming in 2008."

Brown may be reached at 715-243-0491 or via e-mail at