It looks like hard times in the valley, at least for a couple businesses – Hughes Department Store (front page) and Omak Wood Products (see our story online). While we are used to seeing OWP mill come and go, in a variety of guises, Hughes’ if it can’t hang on, will definitely be a blow to the Oroville area.
Right now the business, that evolved from the store Ben Prince started eight decades ago, is struggling and there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. Jack Hughes said they’ve tried a variety of things from selling the business to someone else to restructuring with their distributors. He said the Prince family has worked hard to come up with a solution for the store, but the prospect is still bleak. To that end, Jack and Mary decided they were going to close up shop sometime at or soon after January. The sign was on the reader board Monday, but by Tuesday he was saying
at least for now, the store is not be closing. However, the drastic inventory reduction sale will continue.
While OWP employs some 180 people in the Omak area, Hughes has from 40 to 45, according to Jack. Those jobs will be hard to replace and that’s what we should be most concerned about in the short run. In the long run, an Oroville without half of its biggest anchor store would be tough on the whole town. Sure, the Canadians will still come down for groceries on the Aikins Harvest Foods side, but perhaps not as often if they can’t shop for clothing or hardware on the Hughes side of Prince’s Center.
And while many things conspired to make this year a tough one for Oroville – a low Canadian dollar and the smoke from the fires keeping tourists away, perhaps the biggest lesson the business community, well everyone that lives in the Oroville area, needs to take from what’s happening to our biggest store, is we can no longer rely on the Canadian shoppers and tourists to keep us afloat. We need to find something besides our neighbors to the north to carry us through the slow months. Sure, we’re not the first to say it but it’s a lesson we seem to have to learn over and over again. The businesses, city government and everyone who considers Oroville home, needs to come together and find a plan for the future – then when the Canadian dollar come back that will be a bonus. The city needs to get involved in a general way so that everyone will keep spending their dollars here so Oroville will have the revenue from sales taxes to keep running the town.
OWP has been boom and bust for a long time – we’ve heard it described as the Boeings of Okanogan County back in the days when it was Biles-Coleman. Mid-county, with its larger population will probably more easily absorb the lost jobs – but no area in our county can lose good paying steady paychecks and not feel the hurt.
What’s in store for OWP, we’re not sure it will probably come back in some form. And, we can’t imagine not having something in the dry good side of Prince’s Center either if the business eventually shuts its doors. If that will happen is anyone’s guess, but it’s time we come up with a plan to make sure we have good jobs in the Oroville area, so our businesses can rely as much or more on local paychecks to keep them going.