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Word of Ward Closing Attracts Crowds at Last

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a sound that hasn’t been heard in a while among the racks of windbreakers and sweatshirts in the active wear section.

“Next in line, please!” sales clerk Gerald Rivera shouted Saturday to those waiting to make purchases at the Montgomery Ward department store in Eagle Rock.

For once, there actually was a line of customers stretching across the second-floor aisle in front of Rivera’s cash register.

News that the 128-year-old retail chain is shutting down drew crowds to its outlets across Los Angeles. Sadly for the company, the spurt in business came two days after it filed for bankruptcy.

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No actual closure date was announced, although the firm’s executives have set Jan. 31 as the deadline for using gift certificates and making returns.

“I just live down the street so I’m in here all the time,” said Hussain Taylor, the person who was next in Rivera’s line.

“I’m disappointed they’re closing. But I’m not surprised. Sometimes I’ve been in here and this place was deserted,” said Taylor, a private investigator who was buying gym clothes.

Behind him in line was Eagle Rock resident Paula Liendo, who was purchasing pants and a shirt for her son. She nodded in agreement.

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“I’ve been coming here about 46 years. I’m going to miss it. I can tell you that,” Liendo said sadly.

Most of Saturday’s shoppers seemed to have been lured by the scent of bargains. Banners announcing “Nothing Held Back!” and “Entire Store on Sale” were already up at several local stores.

But most merchandise in the store’s appliance, electronics and clothing departments seemed to be awaiting markdown tags.

At the San Gabriel Valley store in Rosemead, longtime customer Amelia Lomas urged her son to hold off on the purchase of baby furniture that he was contemplating.

“It’s not on sale yet, Henry,” said Lomas, of El Monte. “They are telling us it will be a week or so before prices are marked down.”

Lomas also bemoaned the pending closure. At the Rosemead Place shopping center, Montgomery Ward is the major tenant.

“I’ve had an account here for 30 years,” she said. “I know my account number by heart. The malls killed Wards, not the quality of the merchandise here or the prices. Wards’ quality has always been good.”

Across the store in the appliances department, clerk Nellie Talavera was removing tags that promised “Zero interest for one year” from a row of dishwashers. That sales incentive has been canceled.

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“This store’s been here almost 50 years--I remember coming in here in the early ‘60s,” said Talavera--who has worked nine years there.

“We’re playing things by ear. The liquidators will be coming.

We’re like a sinking ship and the pirates are boarding us,” said Talavera, of Temple City.

Business was also brisk Saturday in Ward stores in Panorama City and Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley.

Shopper Barbara Ponce of Northridge bought a tablecloth and four place mats and was pleased with her purchase at the Canoga Park store, which was an original 1964 tenant in the Topanga Plaza shopping center.

“I paid the regular price for them, but I wanted them,” Ponce explained. “But my son bought a nice bracelet for his girlfriend and got half off, plus another 20%.”

Nearby, Eric Colon was looking without success for gardening tools.

“We sort of picked through the bones. There was nothing I was really interested in,” said Colon, a securities trader from Woodland Hills.

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As his wife, Jayme, tended to their 2-year-old daughter Rachel, Colon took a quick break and tried out a $399 leather chair in the corner of the furniture department.

Behind him was a hallway leading to an employee area. Ward workers had decorated its walls with artwork that probably won’t be for sale when the final markdowns come.

One was a framed reproduction of a Montgomery Ward poster celebrating the chain’s heyday that bore the words: “1872 Golden Jamboree 1922.”

The other was more personal. “Honor Roll of Associates,” it was labeled.


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