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Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Orting faces another loss: its newspaper

Seattle Times staff reporter

ORTING, Pierce County — The dollar store was the first to go. Then the pet store and the submarine-sandwich joint both shut down, along with an auto-body shop and a small surveying company.

And on the main drag, the Spar Pole Pub is dark now, too, just like another storefront down the block.

In the past six months, this former farming community has lost all these businesses, worrying locals about the economic future of the town of 6,000. But none of the closures has pained folks as much as the news that The Gazette, the town's own weekly newspaper, is shutting down for good.

Today, the last edition of the 7,500-circulation tabloid will roll out. And while there have been whispers of hope that a new owner might come along, no one has stepped forward.

"We were hoping for a miracle," said Dannie Oliveaux, the newspaper's sole staff reporter and editor for the past two years said last week. "I'll clear out my stuff ... unless somebody buys the paper at the last minute or something."

Management at the company that runs The Gazette — Lafromboise Newspapers, which also publishes The Chronicle in Centralia and the Nisqually Valley News in Yelm, Thurston County — couldn't be reached for comment. Oliveaux said the reason for the closure was simple: Ad revenues had dwindled and finances were strained.

No matter what the reason, the town is losing a valuable resource, like a family matriarch, said Jeff Davis, superintendent of the 2,000-student Orting School District.

"When my grandmother was alive, she was the hub of the family. But when she died, that cohesiveness fell apart and pretty soon, the cousins didn't know each other, and the aunts and uncles went their own ways," Davis said.

"It's the same feeling now."

Still small-town feel

Three trains a day used to stop in Orting, back when the community was renowned for hops and tulips. But lately pastures and farms have been replaced by subdivisions such as River's Edge, River View and Riverbend Estates, taking their names from the Puyallup and Carbon rivers here.

But Orting has retained a small-town feel. The highway has signs warning of horseback riders, and drivers happily stop for pedestrians, even when there isn't a crosswalk.

So the latest spate of business closures has people worried, Davis said.

"We've had several foreclosures in our neighborhoods and several businesses are no longer with us," he said. "There is a real sense of concern right now. It's palpable. We all feel it."

Most Tuesdays, the stack of free copies of The Gazette at City Hall would be long gone by the time Mayor Cheryl Temple arrived for work. Though the town has "almost always had a newspaper," the owners and formats have changed over the years, she said.

When it was purchased by Lafromboise five years ago, it went from being a monthly publication to a weekly. But during that time, the paper never made a profit, Temple said.

"People are just real sad" about The Gazette, a town institution for 17 years, she said. "They've been so good to us — it's been a source of joy and a good source of information."

Though grammar and punctuation mistakes in The Gazette have driven his wife nuts, Stan Febus said for his money, he'd rather advertise his business, First Love Antiques, in The Gazette than in a big-city newspaper. He bought an ad in the last edition, too.

"It's a small-town paper and people read it front to back," he said.

But, Febus said, "it's not a secret that businesses struggle out here. ... We're not getting rich, but we're surviving."

At the same time, no one is giving up. Febus just opened his shop a year ago. An H&R Block tax business recently came to town, and Starbucks opened a second location here. Someone is opening a burger joint soon and a new tenant has been found for the old Spar Pole Pub.

"This town, like every small town, is taking a hit," Oliveaux said.

"But I think it'll bounce back."

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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