Four storefronts on Main Street in John Day will be changing, but it’s not all bad news for the local economy.
Some owners are closing their stores for good, while others are changing how they’ll continue to do business during the tough economic times facing Grant County.
Sherry Dress, the owner of the Naturally Yours Health and Wellness Center on Main Street, plans to move most of the store’s business to her home while the city of John Day completes a major upgrade project to the Weaver Building at 131 W. Main St.
Through Naturally Yours, established in 1992, Dress promotes homeopathic medicine and makes various teas and tinctures for about 500 regular customers. She plans to set up her alternative health business in the front room of her home, 26984 Day Spring Road in John Day, with regular business hours of 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
The health food cooperative at the store will not be moved to her home, Dress said. Volunteers are organizing a way for locals to order products online from Azure Standard, a regional organic food distributor with truck deliveries to John Day. Dress said she’ll help people who want to continue to buy Azure Standard products.
Prime Time Video
After 30 years in business, Dave Barntish is closing Prime Time Video.
After 19 years in the John Day Plaza, Barntish moved Prime Time Video to Main Street five and a half years ago. A perfect storm of changing technology and declining local economic conditions, however, ended that run. Barntish said he couldn’t compete with Redbox video-rental machines and online streaming.
“I just didn’t have the rental volume I used to have,” he said.
He also couldn’t compete with online sales of electronic parts and equipment — especially Amazon. He said people have come into his store to ask about specific electronics equipment and prices, then looked up the same items on their smartphones and told him they could buy it cheaper online. He also noted the large number of computer repair people in the small-town John Day economy.
“I don’t mind competition, but after a certain point it cuts the pie too thin,” he said.
The main impact, however, has been the declining economy, with all the mills closing, he said.
“We’ve lost population – I have less foot traffic in front,” he said.
Barntish closed the doors at Prime Time Video on Jan. 27. He said he plans to put remaining inventory for sale online or at local flea markets.
Muzzy’s 123 Dollar Store
Another casualty in the John Day economy is Muzzy’s 123 Dollar Store in the John Day Plaza, which is selling off all its inventory at sharply reduced prices.
The store never had to compete with large dollar store chains at the local retail level, store manager Nathan Gordanier said, but it had to compete with the chains when purchasing goods.
“Sometimes the retail price at a Dollar Tree store was less than my cost,” Gordanier said. “We tried to keep 92 percent of our items at one dollar or less, but we didn’t have the volume to do that.”
The store never had the number of customers it needed for the low margins dollar stores could expect, he said. After the Mountains Department Store and the King’s Discount Store closed, leaving a large empty space in the plaza between Chester’s Thriftway and the dollar store, the amount of customer traffic simply dried up, he said.
“When Mountains closed, you could see the numbers drop right away,” Gordanier said. “Finally, we had to make a decision. At some point, you have to stop the bleeding.”
The shrinking John Day economy just doesn’t offer everything people need, he said. When people go out of town for a doctor’s visit or to buy something that isn’t normally sold in town, they inevitably do the rest of their shopping at the same time. He noted that it was Armstrong’s intent to promote local shopping by offering more items in the dollar store, but he just didn’t have the square-footage needed.
The plan now is to sell off everything in the store and then close, Gordanier said.
EOCIA College of Cosmetology
Facing additional hurdles, the Eastern Oregon College of Industries and Arts College of Cosmetology has closed and reopened as a salon, business owner Nina LeAnne Gast said.
The college on West Main Street in John Day began holding classes in February 2015 and celebrated its first graduate five months later, but the school officially closed Dec. 31, after graduating 13 students.
“There’s been lots of shock and disappointment,” Gast said. “It’s a huge loss to the community.”
It took more than three years of effort before the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission licensed EOCIA to operate as a private career school. But Gast needed 11 students to make ends meet, and she had only six.
More students would have signed up if they could obtain federal student aid, she said, but it would take four more years before the college could be nationally accredited and its students would be eligible for student loans. And the college had to be profitable before it even applied, Gast noted.
“I knew about all this ahead of time, but I felt sure I could maintain 12 students and keep the college going,” she said. “I had 20 students interested in the college, but only six had the financial resources to attend without student aid.”
In keeping with the acronym EOCIA, the salon will run under the name Eastern Oregon Cosmetology Industry Associates. Gast will be joined by Judy Chapman, Miranda Hoodenpyl and Chrisheena Fuglee.
Salon hours at the same location are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. For more information, call 541-620-8863.