City seeking to fill Duckwall void

For the past 32 years, Janie Meierhoff, 63, has been an associate and manager of the downtown Duckwall store in Marion. But in early January, that store and 19 others in Kansas are expected to close.

A mainstay for more than 75 years in Marion?s Main Street, Duckwall has been a general purpose store for area residents.

With the announcement of the store?s closing last week, residents were devastated.

?What will we do now?? Janie Meierhoff, Duckwall manager since 1991, said her customers have been asking.

Meierhoff has no answer other than to say that people need to support their local businesses.

?We had a lot of loyal customers,? she said.

Some of them, she said, came in about the same time every week.

Many Duckwall shoppers, Meierhoff said, are older residents who can?t drive to other cities. Duckwall was the only place for them to buy daily household supplies.

As for her own future and future of the four employees at the store, Meierhoff said she isn?t sure what will happen next.

?I think I will take some time off,? she said. ?This was my life. I came to work at 8:30 a.m. and left at 6 p.m. Right now, I am just trying to get through these next few weeks.?

Doug Kjellin, economic development director, said Marion is not without options, but it?s too early to discuss what they may be.

Announcement

A press release issued by Abilene-based Duckwall-Alco stated the decision to close the Duckwall stores wasn?t easy.

?We know it will have an impact on our employees and the local communities we serve,? said Rich Wilson, president and chief executive officer.

?We wish to express our thanks to the many customers who have become our friends over the years, and we also thank all of our Duckwall employees who have served our company faithfully during that time.?

Wilson stated that Duckwall stores are no longer meeting the needs of a majority of shoppers and account for only 3.9 percent of the company?s sales.

The stores produce little or no profit, he added, and consume a disproportionate share of resources related to distribution, inventory investment and other costs.

?The necessary technology upgrades to bring these stores into the corporate IT infrastructure would be cost-prohibitive,? he said.

Wilson stated that the Alco stores have been upgraded by widening aisles, installing better lighting and offering better customer service by expanding selections of foods and other products.

In addition to Marion, the other Kansas communities losing their Duckwall store are Stafford, Horton, Washington, Ness City, Osage City, Clear?water, LaCrosse, Hoisington, Sedan, Plainville, Council Grove, Lincoln, Syracuse, Johnson, Pleasanton, Coldwater, Atwood, Kinsley and Herington.

Nationally, Duckwall-Alco officials said they would be closing 44 Duckwall stores and redirecting the money to Alco stores. Forty-three of the stores will close permanently, but one Duckwall store, in Hettinger, N.D., will reopen as an Alco store.

The last day

Meierhoff said the company?s decision will hit home when she locks the doors for the last time.

?That?s going to be hard,? she said. ?I have enjoyed working with the public and I am thankful for having had this great opportunity.?

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