The sign outside the Orchard Supply store in Sonora Wednesday said Yard Sale.

If there is one Thursday, it would say Going Out of Business.

Lowe’s Companies Inc., which bought the Orchard Supply chain in 2013, announced Wednesday it would close all 99 stores and the distribution center that services the stores by the end of the year.

Jackie Hartzell, director of public relations for Lowe’s in Mooresville, N.C., said she did not know how many jobs would be affected in Sonora, but systemwide there were 4,300 with 3,900 of them in California.

Orchard Supply also has stores in Oregon and Florida. Most Orchard stores are within 10 miles of a Lowe’s, Hartzell said, and employees would be given the first chance at openings at Lowe’s.

The manager of the Sonora Orchard declined to comment and referred all questions to Hartzell.

Customers at Orchard Supply in Sonora Wednesday expressed sadness about the closing.

Laurie Britt, coordinator of the Tuolumne Youth Center, was there having a key made.

“It makes me sad,” she said. “It’s not a big-box store and I get great service every time.” She said she was also sad because Orchard was going to help the youth center establish an herb garden.

Kenny Dovie, of Sonora, went to verify that the store was closing.

“It’s horrible,” he said, “I prefer this over Lowe’s because Lowe’s doesn’t have the community’s best interest in mind. The staff here is more knowledgeable and eager to help.”

Richard Hebert, a Realtor with Keller WIlliams, agreed the staff was more helpful.

“It’s a better selection of stuff here,” he added.

Orchard Supply was started as a farmers co-op in San Jose in 1931. Sears bought the chain in 1996 before establishing it as an independent company in 2011. The company filed Chapter 11 voluntary bankruptcy, and then Lowe’s bought it for $205 million in cash while also assuming the debt.

Hartzell said the closing was simple math — the Orchard stores were losing money and Lowe’s executives want to concentrate on their core business, big-box home improvement stores.

“This was a difficult business decision,” she said. “We tried to make it work.”

Most Orchard stores are about 36,000 square feet — Sonora’s is slightly larger — compared to Lowe’s average of 113,000 square feet.

The Sonora store opened in June 1994 amid a weekend of jazz music, free balloons, hot dogs, soft drinks and performances by Noodles the Clown. It was the 54th store for the chain. The first manager, Ed Stepp, told The Union Democrat he had more than 100 staff members.

Hartzell said Lowe’s has hired Hilco Merchant Services to liquidate the inventory. The sales will go for about 10 weeks.

Maggie Beck contributed to this story.

Contact Lyn Riddle at lriddle@uniondemocrat.com or 209-588-4541.

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