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20-year employee ponders future as Lack's closes

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Jan. 16, 2011 at 11 p.m.
Updated Jan. 16, 2011 at 7:17 p.m.

Joanne Estrada talks to two of the final customers at Lack's Furniture, where she has worked for the past 20 years. Lack's, which is based out of Victoria and has been a part of the community for 73 years, closed its doors Sunday for the last time.

DID YOU KNOW?Lack's Store's Inc. launched in 1938 in Beeville.

The chain owned 36 stores in Texas.

The store announced it would file Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November.

Two Lacks stores were located in Victoria.

Other stores were in Corpus Christi, Sinton, Portland, Alice, Bay City, Clute, El Campo, Port Lavaca, San Antonio, Austin, New Braunfels, College Station, Midland, Odessa, Temple, Killeen, Waco, Lubbock, San Angelo, Abilene, Tyler, Lufkin, Del Rio, Uvalde and Longview.

It was the end of an era for Lack's Stores Inc. on Sunday, as the 72-year-old business closed its doors for the last time in Victoria.

A long table of books, a few boxes of bed rails, miscellaneous household and office items were all that remained on the showroom floor after three months of liquidating furniture items at discounted prices.

"It's very hard being that I've been here for 20 years," office manager Joanne Estrada, 41, said of her last day with the company. "It's a sad day."

Lack's sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year, announcing they would close 36 locations in Texas. News of the store's closing was devastating to store employees, including Estrada, who has dedicated more than half her life to the family-owned company.

"This was my first real job. And I've worked at this same location for 20 years," she said.

Estrada wandered into the Lack's store on North Navarro Street 20 years ago as a former waitress looking for an office job. She found a retail career that would follow her through marriage, children and other life milestones.

"I had other jobs before this. I worked at a restaurant and other places," she said. "I wasn't married before I came here, but I got married and had kids while I worked with this company. I've grown up working here."

For more than a decade, Estrada has worked as Lack's office manager, heavily supporting customers with their furniture needs.

"The customers I've worked with through the years were wonderful, and it's going to be hard not to see them," Estrada said. "I think it's going to be hard for some of them. Customers are so used to coming in to the store and making payments and getting face-to-face service."

While Estrada assisted the last few customers with their purchases, individuals approached customer service representatives inquiring about buying the store's computer monitors, modems and desk chairs right out from under them.

"Don't take my chair," Estrada said, laughing as store manager Ruben Velasquez wheeled two gray office chairs into a "Sold" area of the store.

"I've had this chair for a long time, and I didn't want to part with it," she said. "I bought it for $10. It's mine."

Estrada, a Victoria native, said she will spend the coming weeks searching for a new job that will keep her in Victoria.

"I don't know what I'm going to do yet, but I wouldn't leave Victoria," she said.

When the doors closed for the last time, Velasquez, also a 20-year Lack's employee, stood to the side of the customer service desks and stared blankly at the open store.

"It's a strange feeling. It hasn't hit me yet that I'm not going to come in here tomorrow and see the staff," he said. "It's definitely the end of an era."

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