PENDLETON - Vacancies created when Troutman's Emporium closed due to bankruptcy will be filled with a similarly named business with roots in Eastern Oregon.

Neal Jones, who manages Pendleton's Melanie Square shopping center, lived in Pendleton as a child and still has family in the area, including his uncle, U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith.

Jones, 36, plans to move his family from Phoenix to Pendleton this summer to focus on growing the business.

"I'm glad that Pendleton will be the corporate headquarters," he said.

The new store, named Jones Emporium, will be a department store focused on the community, he said. There is no connection between Troutman's Emporium and Jones' enterprise. The format and floor plan for the Pendleton store are still being developed, so he could not say how many jobs the store would provide.

Jones also plans to open similar stores in La Grande and John Day. He said he wanted to focus on the smaller communities and provide jobs in them. The three stores are scheduled to open Sept. 1.

Part of the problem with the old Emporium, Jones said, was it lost touch with the smaller towns. Jones pointed out that in the end, the Emporium did not even carry Levi's or other clothing brands that were in demand in a town like Pendleton.

Pendleton and Eastern Oregon had been great markets for the old Emporium, Jones said. He has reviewed three years of store sales, which he said looked very good, and he is optimistic about the endeavor.

"This is a wonderful thing," he said.

Pendleton City Manager Larry Lehman said he was pleased Jones was starting the business.

"He will do an excellent job there and will give our consumers another option on shopping for clothes," he said.

Lehman said it was excellent to see the vacant space filled so quickly.

Jones, who has a degree in agribusiness from Arizona State University, has no retail experience. But he has been a property manager, merchandise broker, leases airplanes and co-developed a sports nutrition bar for golfers.

"I feel I have a grasp for marketing and business development," he said.

Jones was in Eugene recently selling equipment from Emporium's asset sale that he won't need to run his small retail chain. Figuring in the cost of acquiring building leases and buying inventory, Jones said it will likely cost "a few million" to get the stores open.

Jeannine Koranda is a staff writer for the East Oregonian in Pendleton.

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