Hughes' Dept. Store looking to 'right the ship'

Summer fires, low Canadian dollar, even the bird flu, combine to hurt sales

OROVILLE – It’s been a long summer of rumors and conjecture, is Hughes’ Department Store selling or closing – as of Monday it seemed like it was closing, but Tuesday that had changed.

According to Jack Hughes, who owns the business with his wife Mary, this past year has been a rough one, with sales down do to a perfect storm of issues.

“It actually started last spring, with the bird flu and spring sales were down,” said Hughes, “then we had the Canadian dollar drop so low and the fires…. even though most were not here, we got so much smoke people weren’t coming down across the border.”

Hughes said his business – selling clothing, shoes, hardware and a variety of other items at his store, relies heavily on the three months in the summer and Canadian shoppers to get them through the rest of the year. Add that to the fact that his other business, Discount Fireworks was also down due to all the fireworks bans this year, Hughes went looking for someone to by the department store.

“We didn’t have that pot to draw from again,” said Hughes.

He says the internet is cutting into everyone’s business as well making it hard to compete with customers who’d rather stay home and order items online from the comfort of their armchair.

“This summer we had someone interested in buying, but that fell through due to health reasons on their part… just a week and a half before we had the deal finalized. A couple more looked at it but they said it was too far from their bases of operations. They really liked the store, they thought it was great, but just too far from home,” he said.

Hughes, who leases space for his business in the north half of the Prince’s Center, said he had been working very closely with the Prince family to try and make things work. The store, which was Prince’s Department Store, has been in business for the better part of eight decades and a destination for generations of cross border shoppers.

“Jim (Prince) and I have had our heads together everyday for the past three weeks. We’ve been trying to work something out for four months now,” said Hughes.

That brought him to the point where he and his wife were going to close the store after the beginning of next year. He told his employees that and even advertised it on the big Prince’s Center reader board. But on Tuesday morning Jack Hughes said no, the store wasn’t closing, but the big 30 percent inventory reduction sale was going to continue.

He isn’t optimistic about the situation turning around soon, especially the Canadian dollar which has been down by 30 percent or more.

“Traditionally once it’s down it takes about two years to come back,” he said. “And a store this size in a town of about 1700 just can’t be supported by our local people alone.”

Hughes, who employs between 40 and 45 people year around, said he has some of the best employees.

Editor’s Note: Hughes was emphatic about the store not closing at the end of January. For now we’ll have to wait and see if he can come up with a plan to keep the doors open.

Update: Hughes Dept. Store not closing