R.N. Johnson in Walpole, N.H. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
R.N. Johnson in Walpole, N.H. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Thursday February 28, 2013

WALPOLE, N.H. -- A fixture of the town for the past 84 years, RN Johnson Inc. will close its doors next month, exactly 80 days after its contract with the John Deere corporation was terminated.

The family-owned company is set to go out of business Thursday, March 28, potentially leaving 14 people at least temporarily unemployed. John Deere terminated its contract with the small enterprise on Monday, Jan. 7, and representatives from the industrial giant immediately began removing the company's merchandise from the store.

The contract termination was a huge blow to RN Johnson, and owner Alan Johnson was forced to lay off six employees. Alan Johnson exhausted every possible means to secure new tractor suppliers as well as financing to continue his business operations.

"It became apparent that these efforts would not bear fruit within the time frame necessary to remain a viable business," he stated in a release Wednesday morning.

He said he informed his employees of the news on Monday, hoping to give them enough time to find other jobs. Johnson said for half his employees their job at the store is the only one they've ever had.

"Fortunately many of them have very, very marketable skills," he told the Reformer.

Johnson said he made the final decision on Thursday, Feb. 21, after more than two weeks of agonizing consideration.

"I came to the realization that there was absolutely no way that, if I kept going, I would be able to pay off all my creditors," he said. "I couldn't sleep at night if I walked away while owing people money."

A media request sent to John Deere was not answered by presstime but Barry Nelson, a manager of media relations for the international corporation, previously told the Reformer that confidentiality reasons prevented him from explaining why John Deere decided to cancel the contract. When asked if John Deere was concerned about small businesses, Nelson said the company is concerned about its relationship with its customers.

Johnson said his store's remaining month will allow his employees to finish all service work already in progress. Until it closes, RN Johnson will run a store-wide inventory clearance sale of 25 percent off all in-stock parts and merchandise. The discount will increase as needed as the month progresses in order to liquidate as much inventory as possible. New and used machinery is not included, nor is the shop's service work.

Johnson has scheduled a liquidation auction for Saturday, April 20, from 9 a.m. until everything is sold. The auction is being run by Reginald Lussier of Lussier Auction Service in Lyndonville, Vt. The auction will include the store's John Deere Museum collection and all John Deere memorabilia, parts library, tech manuals, operator manuals and special tools. There will also be John Deere signs, posters, literature, sales manuals, price books, parts books and manuals and many other collectibles spanning the 2-cylinder era.

The sale of RN Johnson's real estate will be handled by Cynthia Westover of Galloway Real Estate, in Walpole. A giant yard sale to liquidate unsold parts, pieces and merchandise still on hand will be held after the auction at a date to be announced. All sales between now and the final closing will be by cash, check or credit card.

The Reformer posted Johnson's statement on its Facebook account Wednesday and it was met with numerous comments expressing grief and regret.

Lyn Sleeper was one of the individuals to leave a comment, saying her father and her ex-brother-in-law once worked at RN Johnson for a while.

"I was really saddened (to see that posting). It was an icon for that town. It makes me really sad," Sleeper, who grew up in Westminster but now lives in Brattleboro, told the Reformer in a telephone interview. "It's horrible, absolutely horrible. It makes me want to cry. It was a big part of my childhood."

Johnson said though it is sad to close a family business, he is not devastated because the industry was such a tough one. He said once had to re-mortgage his house, cash in his retirement and all his insurance policies to keep the business going and often had to borrow money to meet payroll.

"I've got no more tricks up my sleeve," he said, adding that he took over the store 19 years ago. "It's just business."

He said it would be easy to point the finger at John Deere, but a five-year national recession has also taken a toll on the business. He said two of his four children work at the store but he has always hoped they would go into a different line of work. He said his children and wife, Lynnette, are completely at peace with their situation.

Johnson said he has no idea what he will do for work now but he will not go on welfare or unemployment.

Anyone can visit the John Deere's website and use their own ZIP code to find the nearest John Deere dealer.

Northrax Northeast in Springfield, Vt., is about 16 miles from R.N. Johnson and sells John Deere construction tractors, but not farming ones. It appears Mountain View Equipment, LLC, in Rutland, Vt., is the dealer of John Deere farming tractors closest to Walpole. According to MapQuest, it is at least 55 miles from Walpole.

Johnson said in his statement his employees will be able to refer customers to other equipment sales and service businesses that can satisfy their future needs.

His grandfather, Ralph "Jack" Nathan Johnson, opened the store in 1929.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.