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Cottage Grove Home Depot to close

The Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer, announced Thursday it will close its Cottage Grove store after an internal company assessment pinpointed 15 under-performing locations to be folded nationwide.

The Cottage Grove Home Depot will be closed Friday to prepare for liquidation, and then re-open Saturday with clearance prices, an employee at the store said.

Company spokesperson Stephen Holmes said Thursday he anticipates the store closing its doors for good in roughly seven to eight weeks, "as long as it takes to sell through the remaining merchandise."

It's a decision that will affect 108 employees at the Cottage Grove store.

"Our heart goes out to the people losing their jobs -- it's a very tough job market," said Cottage Grove Economic Development Authority President and city councilmember Fred Luden.

Holmes said 23 Home Depot locations will remain open in the Twin Cities market, with no plans to close additional stores, leaving ample opportunity to relocate as many of Cottage Grove's employees as possible.

"In terms of our associates, that's really what's most important to us at this point," he said. "We're extremely focused on reviewing their options with them."

Employees unable to be placed elsewhere in the market will be offered 60 days of severance pay. Those who have been with the company longer will be offered more, Holmes said.

The closing comes as an unexpected blow to city officials. Thursday's revelation represents the first time in The Home Depot's history it will close flagship locations.

"With that sort of longevity of their existing stores, it would not be something we would anticipate because the company has not done this sort of thing in the past," said city administrator Ryan Schroeder.

Schroeder and Luden said the city is interested in meeting with Home Depot officials to discuss what can be expected to occur after the closure.

Luden also said he's interested in discovering what worked for the company during its more than five years in Cottage Grove.

"We'd like to find out what went right and what didn't go right at this location," he said.

In all, 14 other stores -- located in Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin -- will be shuttered, with 1,300 employees affected.

A company release, though, pointed out the move represents less than 1 percent of The Home Depot's total number of locations. The company has 1,970 stores nationwide.

The Atlanta-based retailer opened its Cottage Grove outlet in 2002, helping to spur a redevelopment project the city had undertaken in the Gateway North commercial area at 80th Street and East Point Douglas Road.

The shopping center adjacent to Rainbow Foods had "fallen into a level of disrepair," Schroeder said. "Now, there were some stores that were doing fine, but the center itself was looking pretty tired. When Home Depot came in it provided the opportunity for the center to be rejuvenated, which is what happened -- it was really a good thing."

The retail center that once housed K-Mart will now have a pair of vacancies after the move of CGAA Bingo from its home of five years last month in addition to Home Depot leaving town.

It's the largest store closing and loss of jobs in one fell swoop the city has faced in the past decade, Schroeder said. The loss of the home improvement giant, though, will be negligible on Cottage Grove's tax rolls.

The property will continue to be owned by Home Depot, and the building -- most likely, Schroeder said -- won't be razed, meaning the company is still responsible for the taxes on both.

"The loss (to the city), really, is in losing the products they delivered and in the jobs eliminated," Schroeder said.

But finding a tenant to replace Home Depot won't be easy, Schroeder conceded.

"There are limited opportunities for 100,000 square-foot retailers," he said. "So there aren't a lot of people that are going to walk into that space."

Patricia Drey Busse contributed to this report.