PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – All area Bales and Lamb’s Marketplace stores will be closing, employees at each have confirmed to FOX 12.
The development comes less than a week after an employee union representative confirmed two locations were shutting down. Now, workers at all four stores - in Portland, Aloha and Lake Oswego - have confirmed their pending closure.
On Wednesday, stock had run out on many shelves inside the local, independent grocery chain’s Cedar Mill store. Some sections, appearing to have once been filled with a variety of products, were nearly entirely empty.
"It’s just - you've seen it kind of in its highest point, especially during the holidays and during the food and wine show,” said Cedar Mill butcher Dustin Berg. “And now, [to] kind of not really have many customers left coming in - it's kind of disheartening and hurts a little bit."
Facebook and Twitter pages for the grocery chain had been taken down Wednesday afternoon.
At both the Cedar Mill and Garden Home locations, there were no signs posted yet on entrance doors informing customers.
“I did not know,” said shopper Ann Voorhees, who has been supporting the Garden Home store for more than 30 years, back to when it was family owned.
Voorhees said the store became more of a meeting spot over the years.
"Friendly place, helpful place, fun place to bump into neighbors and people that we know,” Voorhees said.
Fellow Garden Home customer Anton Leo agrees.
"Kind of a community center for a lot of folks because it has the post office, the bank, the bakery, the butcher,” said Leo.
Leo, who said he’s been shopping almost daily at the store for about five years, said he’s also hoping someone will purchase the store and maintain some of its current features.
The future of the establishments, however, are unclear.
Phone and email inquiries to CEO Mark Miller and Miller Family Holdings, the investment company behind the grocery chain, were not returned to FOX 12 staff Wednesday.
Employees at Miller’s downtown Portland office told a FOX 12 reporter he was not in and it was unclear if he’d be issuing a formal statement on the reasoning behind the closures.
However, some of those who do business with Bales say they’ve seen signs of financial troubles.
Pacific Food Distributors, of Clackamas, said Bales stores were cut off from distribution about six weeks ago following multiple delayed payments or no payments at all.
Many employees, soon to lose their jobs, have said they’ve also been left without an explanation behind the anticipated closures. But, at the Cedar Mill store, three workers who sat down with FOX 12’s Tyler Dumont said the grocery business has changed over the years.
"I think a lot of people are doing online stuff now, where that wasn't as much. I think people eat out more,” said Shannon Schwarz, a Bales employee of 41 years.
Schwarz said she started at age 16 in her senior year of high school at the Farmington store, but moved to the Cedar Mill location about 10 years later where she has remained since. She’s not sure what she will do for work when she becomes unemployed next month.
"My biggest thing is I'm going to miss my customers,” said Schwarz. “They bring me to work every day, they always have. It's like family here for me."
Schwarz’s colleague, Laurie Hougak, echoed a feeling of “family” among employees.
"We help each other. We do everything together, whether it's do something on the shelves or anything,” Hougak said. “We support each other because it is a family."
Hougak, a near 30-year Bales employee, said she has decided to retire when the store closes but will keep in contact with other employees to see how they’re doing.
Employees at the Lake Oswego, Cedar Mill and Garden Home locations all said they expect their last day to be in mid-October. A manager at the Farmington store said he hadn’t yet received a firm closure date.
"It's going to be sad day for all of us,” said Schwarz. “It's going to be hard to hand those keys in, when we get there, or turn out the lights for the last time."
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