Up to nine jobs are gone and the movie-loving public has one less place to rent and buy DVDs and videos following a decision by Blockbuster to close the La Grande Town Center store.
Gone for good: The La Grande Town Center Blockbuster store, which employs seven to nine workers, will close permanently Aug. 26. - The Observer/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
Store manager Jennifer Wilson said the decision to shut the doors Aug. 26 came from corporate management and looks to be final.
“They said our lease hadn’t been renewed and we had till Sept. 1 to have everything out,” she said, adding that Blockbuster does not intend to relocate the Town Center store, which is one of two Blockbusters operating in La Grande.
Blockbuster, headquartered in Dallas, Texas, was founded in 1985 and is a leading global provider of in-home movie and game entertainment.
According to the company Web site, there are more than 4,800 blockbuster stores throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia.
La Grande has had two Blockbusters — the one in the Town Center and another at the corner of Fourth Street and Adams Avenue downtown — for more than a decade.
Wilson wasn’t sure, but said she believed that Blockbuster has done business at the Town Center for about 15 years.
The La Grande Town Center is owned by national real estate developer Phillips-Edison & Co. Phillips-Edison bought the property from Standard Insurance in 2006.
The center is anchored by an Albertsons supermarket. Other businesses there include a Dollar Tree, the China Buffet, Rite Aid, Blue Mountain Sports, liquor store and La Grande Gold and Silver.
Earlier this year, Schuck’s Auto Parts, two doors north of Blockbuster, closed. This summer, Maurice’s, situated between Schuck’s and Blockbuster, moved to a new location in the Wal-Mart shopping complex in Island City.
Wilson said she has heard there are plans to locate a clothing store in the combined Maurice’s-Blockbuster space. A call placed Monday from The Observer to Phillips-Edison Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President Mark Addy was not returned.
Wilson said that Blockbuster decided re-opening the store in a new location doesn’t pencil out.
‘They said it would cost $150,000 to open in another spot and with today’s economy it isn’t feasible,” she said.
Wilson started her career with Blockbuster at the Fourth Street store. She has managed the Town Center outlet the past 17 months.
She said that during that time, the employees have worked hard on customer service and taken pride in all aspects of the operation. The store was doing well, she said.
“I know we’re a small business, but we’ve tried to make this an efficient place where things run smoothly and customers keep coming back,” she said.
Chances of Blockbuster changing its mind about opening the store in another location are slender, but customers who want to register objections about the permanent closure can call Blockbuster customer service toll free at 1-800-880-3832.
“Our customers are saying they’d like to have a chance to voice their opinion,” Wilson said.
Wilson said she began to fear change was coming about nine months ago when she noticed surveyors working in the Town Center parking lot. Also, contractors were coming in periodically to look the store over, she said.
“When you start seeing things like that, you know something’s going on,” she said. “We knew with Schuck’s and Maurice’s gone they were probably planning to build something else.”
Wilson said that at the end of July a contractor came into the store asking about the fire alarm system.
“He said, ‘So where are you moving?’ We pretty much knew then they were planning to close the store,” she said. She called her regional manager and confirmed the bad news: the store was shutting down, with no plans to re-open.
Contacted Tuesday, the Blockbuster regional office in Ontario said it would not comment on the closing.
Wilson said the Town Center store employs seven people regularly and a couple more during the holiday season.
She said her regional manager told her he would talk to the Fourth Street store about hiring some of those employees. She said she didn’t know if any had gotten jobs.
As for herself, she said she had a chance to work for Blockbuster either in Twin Falls or Idaho Falls, Idaho, or at a store in Missoula, Mont.
“Out of the three, Idaho Falls seemed the most reasonable. It’s seven and a half hours away. But I’d be packing up my whole life and going to work for a company that just shut me down,” she said.
She said she decided to stay in La Grande and attend Eastern Oregon University instead.
“I’m taking the pre-requisites for the nursing program,” she said.
The store will keep regular hours through Aug. 24, then will be closed all day Aug. 25.
On Aug. 26, it will be open for a clearance sale of items including DVDs and VHS tapes, candy, soda, popcorn and movie memorabilia.
After that, it’s curtains.
“I’ll miss everybody,” Wilson said.