October 22, 2005
The doors of Luhr Jensen and Sons will close by next July — but layoffs of the 150 employees at the waterfront plant begin next month.
Meanwhile, the business has begun operating under a new name, LJS (for Luhr Jensen and Sons) Enterprises.
Owner Phil Jensen said the new name will eliminate confusion with customers. He said the Finland-based Rapala/VMC, via merger this summer, is taking over the manufacture of fishing equipment under his family name. The Luhr Jensen product line, established in 1932, will soon be made in Shenzen, China, just north of Hong Kong.
“Most layoffs will not occur until the late part of the transition period, which will likely be sometime this spring,” said Jensen.
In July, the Hood River operation joined with the Finnish company to put Luhr Jensen on the international market. The Hood River designs will soon be added to Rapala’s inventory that generates $200 million annually from sales in 27 different countries.
“The name will live on with Rapala but, truthfully, this breaks my heart a little,” said Jensen, who has been at the helm of the business for the past 30 years.
He established LJS Enterprises to manage his waterfront property, including the existing 80,000 square foot plant and the 30,000 storage and distribution center.
The Oak Grove facility that manufactures Little and Big Chief electric smokers and wood flavor chips will continue under the LJS umbrella. However, Jensen said that business is now called Smokehouse Products.
He has no plans to shut down the Oak Grove operation and expects to increase the employee base of about 30 people. He will begin, at the turn of the year, putting together a new management team to oversee that venture.
Jensen was working at the company founded by his father since graduating from the University of Oregon in 1960. He said it is time to slow life down a little and expend his energies on other endeavors.
“I’ll still have a lot to manage with the smokehouse operations and the properties. But, I’m one of those kinds of guys who’s just got a lot of projects that I’d like to do – and I am going to be 70,” said Jensen.
Over the years he has collected hundreds of pieces of whimsical art and valuable memorabilia, such as cast iron banks and antique radios and cameras.
Jensen, who serves on the board of the Hood River County Museum, would like to build a room and make some of his lures and more nostalgic pieces available for public viewing.
He would also like to convert an old carpentry shop at the junction of May Street and Rand Road into an informal museum for his collections, which also include 30 classic cars.
That site would be appropriate, said Jensen, since it was the headquarters of Luhr Jensen, Sr. and his budding industry following World War II.
“I want to be able to go there and wallow in déjà vu and enjoy that part of my life,” he said. “I feel a source of pride that we launched a company in Hood River that has caputred worldwide interest.”
Not only is Jensen making a major career change, he is also moving across the Columbia River. Jensen and his wife, Judy Spellecy, will be taking her mother, Margaret, into their new White Salmon home.
Meanwhile, Homeshield, a manufacturer of door and window supplies, will also be moving from the waterfront in the near future.
The company, housed in the former Western Power building, is relocating to The Dalles for a larger lot that will accommodate a major expansion.
Port of Hood River Director Dave Harlan said decisions now have to been made about the future of the properties leased to both companies.
Although Luhr Jensen owns the building used to manufacture fishing products, the company’s lease for the land extends another 66 years.
“It’s a little too early for us to make any definitive decisions. We hope to sit down and discuss this issue with Phil in the near future,” Harlan said.
With both Luhr Jensen and Homeshield gone, the waterfront business base has narrowed to the Hood River Distillers and a couple of tenants in the UTS building.
However, Harlan said the port has already fielded inquiries from businesses interested in the Western Power site.