Payless taking a hike

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The Craig store that promised customers a selection of shoes at low prices is leaving town.

Payless ShoeSource's three Craig employees learned Thursday that they soon will be out of work, but workers have the option pick up employment at some of the corporation's other locations.

The closing was a surprise to Manager Michelle Redmond and many of the customers.

Redmond said that the business of selling shoes in an area without many options seemed to be going well, judging by the store's stream of steady customers.

"We have a lot of people who come from Steamboat, Baggs and Meeker," she said. "People say they like to buy shoes for special occasions, like if there's a wedding or a dance. A lot of people are upset that we're closing."

Payless ShoeSource Inc. with headquarters in Topeka, Kan., operates about 5,000 stores in the Western Hemisphere. According to the company's Web site, it plans to close or relocate about 500 stores in areas that aren't earning the higher profits of its counterparts in the larger markets. The company announced a $1.5 million loss in its net earnings from 2003's second quarter to the same period this year. About 230 Payless stores were scheduled for closure by the end of 2004, but recently company officials slated an additional 260 stores for closure by that date, states the company's second-quarter report.

Centennial Mall Property manager Vicki Hall said she was puzzled when Payless officials announced their withdrawal Friday, as they had recently renewed a two-year lease for the building near the mall's west entrance.

"I certainly hate to see it leave," she said. "It's basically the only shoe store besides Kmart and Cashway."

Hall said the matter had been turned over to attorneys, and she wasn't sure whether the store would have to maintain its legal presence at the mall.

Chris Muzik owner of SPIRITPASS, which is across from the shoe store, said she didn't think its absence would affect her business or others in the mall. Each store in the mall offers a unique product, she said, "because someone who's buying shoes isn't necessarily going to buy a couch at the same time."

"We don't usually see people with shoe bags walking around the mall," Muzik said. "Now if Corral West went out of business that would be another story."

Cassi Hobbs was visiting from Meeker and appreciated the store's sales because at "$3 a pair how can you beat that?" she asked.

Hobbs also said she would miss the store, and the move would change her shopping habits.

"It's a bummer," she said of store's closing. "I guess I'll have to go to Grand Junction now."

Employees at the shoe store were busy marking down items Thursday and trying to stay positive, as some customers were irate after seeing the store's closing signs.

"We've had so many people yell at us," said Samantha Bouwens, an employee of three years. Bouwens said her husband works in Craig, so she'll have to find another job locally.

"Tell them it's not our fault," she said.

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