MERCED -- After almost a decade in business, Merced Ranch Supply on Highway 59 is closing, due to weak sales and a stagnant economy.
The Western wear and horse equipment specialty store will be laying off eight employees, many of whom have worked there for years, when store closes its doors.
"Most of these people have been with me for a long time," said Clark Kellogg, owner of Merced Ranch Supply and Kellogg's Supply Store. "Having to look them in the eye and say we have to close this -- that's hard."
The business opened in 2002, when Kellogg's family business decided to expand after more than 50 years. The new store was profitable through 2008, Kellogg said. Over the last few years, however, it has been losing money.
"I don't see it turning around in the next year or two, so we've had to make some hard businesses decisions," he said. "This is the first time I've ever had to do something quite like this, and it hurts."
Everyone took the news really hard, said Margie Osotio, 43, an employee who's been with the store since it opened. "A lot of tears," she said, remembering the day she found out. "A lot of sadness, like our family was being torn apart. I still get emotional about it."
David Miller, 28, is a yard supervisor who has worked for Merced Ranch Supply for eight years. He said he bought a house about a year ago and needs to find another full-time job as soon as possible to pay his mortgage.
"First I was kind of scared, because I didn't know what I was going to do," he said. "And then just shocked and really disappointed, because it is pretty tight-knit group that we have here."
Stefani Saylor was shopping at Ranch Supply with her family during the store's going-out-of-business sale. She said she felt bad for the people who worked there, but wasn't surprised.
"We heard that it's the economy that's making them go down," she said. "Everybody's down. It's sad. It's everywhere. I don't think it's hitting one particular store. It's all over the county, the state, the United States, really."
However, Kellogg's Supply Store up the road continues to make money. And the difference between the two stores may be a sign of a new, more austere era, said Doug Forte, head operations manager for both stores.
"At Kellogg's, we see the guys in their coveralls and dirty jeans and they've got a hydraulic hose," he said "Here, we see their wife walk in and she's got a purse and she's looking for a blingy bridal or she's looking for a new top or something like that."
While Kellogg's continues to sell farm equipment needed for running a business, in recent years fewer customers have been buying the "luxury items" offered at Ranch Supply, Forte said.
Then, to make matters worse, feed prices went up significantly.
"All of a sudden, hay went to $300 a ton from $110 a ton," he said. "Corn shot through the roof. We had people coming in here, 'You know anybody that wants a horse? I'll give it to them.' "
Other businesses in Merced are in the same situation, and many owners expect the ailing economy to continue, Forte said.
"They have the same forecast that we have," he said. "They don't see any miraculous comeback in the next two to three years. That's really a sad state of affairs."
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Workers reel from closure
Margie Osotio, 43, helped open Merced Ranch Supply in 2008. She's a Merced native with more than 20 years of experience in retail and more than 10 years' experience working as a merchandise purchaser for retail companies.
"I would really love to see this community perform and come back from the recession so I was able to find a job here. I'd much rather take a job in Merced."
She's thinking about taking night classes for information technology or website design while she looks for work. She has a mortgage on her own home but cannot sell it. she said, because the property is underwater -- she owes more on it than it's worth.
David Miller, 28, has worked for Merced Ranch Supply for eight years.
He's taking night classes in law enforcement at Merced College and hopes to graduate in 11/2 years -- then get a job with a police department.
"It was very emotional," Miller said of the business closure. "It's almost like I've been here so long, I'm married to the store and I'm breaking up with it -- kind of."
He said he recently bought a home in Merced, and needs to find another full-time job to make payments on the mortgage.
-- Joshua Emerson Smith