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So goes the housing market, so goes Hal's

For months Greg Krech could see it coming. But that didn't make it less traumatic having to close the business he's co-owned for 25 years.

On Jan. 12 Hal's Millwork, 610 Whitetail Blvd., sent home the last of its 13 employees.

Not long ago in brighter times the custom-maker of doors, windows and trim employed 45 day-shift full-timers.

Now it's just Krech and his partner Ron Hopkins. The two are filling a final batch of orders from existing stock.

After that's depleted and the factory equipment is sold, they'll lock doors for good, probably in 30-60 days.

"We love being here," Krech said. "Everyone in River Falls, from the government officials, to the EDC (Economic Development Corporation), to the bank people and the town populace were terrific and welcomed us here with open arms. Of course it's hard to close, but it'll also be hard not to be in business here anymore."

Krech, 55, became co-owner of Hal's Millwork when he was just 30.

He and partner Hopkins moved the company from a rental place in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., to a new building in the relatively new River Falls corporate park in March 2002.

The original owner's first name was Hal, and the manufacturer kept that name until the end.

Krech said there's no going back on the closure. He pointed to statistics showing the Twin Cities housing market plunging 80% over a two-year period with no letup in sight.

Hal's Millwork products mainly go for new, single-family home construction.

Krech has no personal plans after shutting down his business.

"There's been time to prepare for this, but it still takes a while to sink in," he said.

Krech said the decision to close was made mutually by him, his partner and their financing backers at M&I Business Credit.

The Hal's Millwork building has 47,000 square feet, not counting the mezzanine. Krech the building will be up for sale, though he would prefer to see it leased.

Jerry Wilkens, board member for the River Falls EDC, said there's one interested buyer.

Ironically this particular firm, which he wouldn't identify, was interested in building a similar-size facility close by in the corporate park.

Wilkens said one market analysis shows the housing slump continuing until mid-2010. He said Krech told him he was unable to keep Hal's afloat that long.

Wilkens said the EDC will assist Krech and Hopkins in finding a buyer or a tenant for the Hal's building.

Another EDC focus, Wilkens added, is finding a buyer/tenant for the vacant UFE building, 265 Mound View Road, in the city's industrial park.

After a new owner took over at that national firm, the custom-injection plastics molding site in River Falls was shut last fall. Dozens lost their jobs.

Less than a decade ago, the River Falls UFE plant employed 165. UFE was hurt by the automotive slump.