NAPLES — It’s lights out for the Expo Design Center in North Naples.
The Home Depot earlier today announced it would exit the Expo business, closing all its stores across the country over the next two months.
The only local store is at the Granada Shoppes off U.S. 41 south of Immokalee Road. It’s one of the more prominent anchors at the 300,0000-square-foot shopping center — a joint venture between Miami-based Courtelis Co. and Barron Collier Cos. in Naples.
Granada — one of the largest shopping centers in Collier County — recently lost another big anchor, Linens ‘n Things, which closed in the last month after the chain went bankrupt.
“The center has been hit pretty hard,” Larry Foster, a managing partner for CB Richard Ellis in Naples, said this afternoon. “It’s a great property and a great location and I think it will fill back up. But unfortunately there is not a lot of activity out there right now.”
Last year, the center lost another national chain, Macaroni Grill. The space still sits empty.
Now comes Expo.
Home Depot will shut 34 Expo Design Center stores, five YardBIRD stores, two Design Center stores and a bath remodeling business, called HD Bath, with seven locations. This will lead to 5,000 layoffs across the country — and dozens locally.
Interior designer Peggy Oberlin, design director for Agostino’s Design Group in Naples, said she would miss the local store, which she visited every two or three weeks.
“While my business will continue as it has, it’s a convenience lost,” she said.
The store was particularly good for renovation projects and drew many local designers. “It was a great place that you knew you could run right in and pick up that toilet seat, or light fixture, or something of that nature,” Oberlin said.
While there are other suppliers locally, it was nice to have everything she needed in one place so she didn’t have to run all over town, she said.
“I think we are all hearing surprising things every day about businesses not being able to take the downturn in our industry,” Oberlin said. “It’s sobering. It really stops and makes you think.”
She estimated the store has at least 100 employees, including its own team of design consultants.
“It affects us in a small way, but when you add up all these layoffs over a series of companies, it’s why we have the unemployment rate that we do going on right now,” Oberlin said.
Collier County’s unemployment rate stood at 8.1 percent in December.
On Monday, Home Depot also announced it’s streamlining its support operations. That includes cutting administrative jobs in its support centers outside of its stores, leading to another 2,000 layoffs.
A company spokeswoman, Tia Robinson, could not say how many Southwest Florida employees would lose their jobs.
In total, 7,000 associates will be let go, or about 2 percent of the Atlanta-based company’s total work force of 300,000 employees. That includes 500 workers in its corporate headquarters.
Home Depot said its Expo business, which sells everything from throw pillows and sconces to bathtubs and vanities, hasn’t performed well financially, even during the recent housing boom, and is not expected to any time soon.
The Expo business has weakened significantly in the current economic environment and would only divert attention away from its “orange box” stores, the company said.
“Exiting our Expo business is a difficult decision, particularly given the hard work and dedication of our associates in that business and the support of our loyal customers,” Chairman and Chief Executive Frank Blake said in a statement.
“At the same time, it is a necessary decision that will strengthen our core Home Depot business.”
The cuts won’t affect any “customer-facing” positions in Home Depot stores, the company said.
Home Depot’s plans also include freezing the pay of its officers.
Home Depot said it would record a total pre-tax charge of $532 million related to its restructuring, with $390 million recognized in the fourth quarter.
In 2009, the chain said it expects sluggish sales to continue and plans to reduce capital spending by about $1 billion. It will open 12 stores this year.
The Naples Expo store has already begun offering discounts and telling customers about the closing. Everything will be liquidated.
The store, unique to Southwest Florida, helped draw other national tenants and specialty stores to Granada Shoppes. It opened in July 2000 and stretches 92,443 square feet.
“It doesn’t divide real easy because of the depth of the space,” Foster said. “There are some tenants out there in this category that certainly will take a look at it.”
He suggests that a department store may take its place. “Furniture is dead right now,” he said.
The store’s location is ideal, Foster said.
“There is not vacant land around for a tenant to get into with that type of location,” he said. “There are very few opportunities and there won’t be any in the future.”
About a year ago, the owners were looking to sell Granada Shoppes. At the time, centers like this were in high demand and fetching a pretty penny.
Offers came in, but they weren’t high enough. The center was pulled off the market about six months ago.
“We really didn’t have a price on the center,” said Foster, whose company fielded offers. “It was just kind of a bid situation. We thought we were generating some pretty substantial offers.
“But at the time the market was so hot that everybody thought it was going to go up. Unfortunately, here we are a year later and that isn’t the case.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.