A fixture of the Grand Island retail community for 30 years, Younkers Department Store at the Conestoga Mall, will be closing within the next 10 to 12 weeks.

Younkers is owned by Bon-Ton Stores, which announced Tuesday it would be liquidating all of its 267 stores as the company files for bankruptcy. Bon-Ton has been a national retailer for 120 years.

The Younkers Department Store has been a part of Conestoga Mall since 1987. That was the year Younkers purchased Brandeis. Brandeis was a Nebraska-based department store chain based out of Omaha. It had been part of the Conestoga Mall since the mall opened in 1975.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, Bon-Ton Stores said Tuesday that the winning bidder in a bankruptcy auction held earlier this week was a liquidation firm, which will get what it can for the company’s assets and then close its stores operating under various nameplates.

The company said it expects Younkers and its other stores to remain open during going-out-of-business sales.

A group of investors that included mall owners Namdar Realty Group and Washington Prime Group had signed a letter of intent to bid for the stores and keep them open, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

According to the story, the group had requested $500,000 out of the bankruptcy estate for due diligence costs, but the judge denied the request. That left only liquidation firms bidding for the company.

Bon-Ton was working with the Namdar Realty Group, which would have kept most or all of its stores open.

In June of 2017, the Conestoga Mall was sold by J. Herzog & Sons of Denver to Namdar Realty Group of Great Neck, N.Y.

Bon-Ton operates several other stores in Nebraska and Iowa, including Younkers stores in Lincoln, Grand Island, and Sioux City, Iowa, as well as Herberger’s-branded department stores in Norfolk, Hastings, Kearney, North Platte and Scottsbluff.

As national department store chains continue their battle with online commerce, Cindy Johnson, president/CEO of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, said the changing retail landscape is challenging for communities such as Grand Island.

“Whether it is the impact of online sales or a myriad of new shops that are opening, it is more and more difficult even for established stores like Younkers to retain its customer share of the market,” Johnson said. “It is very unfortunate for Grand Island because we appreciate having a variety and having options for our shoppers. Younkers has long been a go-to store for many — not only in the community, but for the 250,000 people draw that we have in central and outstate Nebraska.”

She said the closing of Younkers not only impacts the workers there and their families, but also the community, Younkers' neighboring stores that relied on its traffic and the Conestoga Mall.

“There will be ripple effects,” Johnson said.

She said the nation’s retail community is fluid and ever-evolving.

And cyclical in some aspects.

The history of Younkers is a miniature version of the fluidity of the American retail industry.

The Younkers Store’s roots have a Nebraska connection.

The store was once Brandeis, which has its roots in downtown Omaha in the 1880s.

It was a pioneer in the mall shopping concept in the 1950s and developed the Crossroads Shopping Mall in Omaha. It later purchased Gold and Company, a Lincoln-based department store, in 1964.

According to Wikipedia, Brandeis had 15 department stores by the 1970s. It had locations across Nebraska, including downtown Columbus and Hastings and in the malls at the Conestoga in Grand Island, Southroads and Westroads in Omaha, and Gateway in Lincoln. They also had locations in Iowa, at Midlands Mall in Council Bluffs and Valley West Mall in Des Moines.

The chain was sold to Younkers in 1987.

Younkers is an American department store chain founded as a family-run dry goods business in 1856 in Keokuk, Iowa.

In 1995, Younkers’ shareholders agreed to a friendly merger by Proffitt’s Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn.

According to Wikipedia, Proffitt’s would later acquire Carson Pirie Scott, and in 1998 Proffitt purchased Saks Fifth Avenue to form Saks Incorporated. In 2003, Saks closed Younkers’ headquarters in Des Moines and merged its operations with those of Carson Pirie Scott in Milwaukee, Wis.

Saks sold Younkers and its Northern Department Store Group stores that included Carson Pirie Scott, Bergner’s, Boston Store and Herberger’s to Bon-Ton Stores for $1.1 billion on March 6, 2006.

Bon-Ton is one of many national retailers that have experienced flagging sales and massive debt as they battle online retailers.

Johnson said shoppers have many options nowadays.

Grand Island has a vibrant retail community. For the last five years, the city has annually recorded more than $1 billion in taxable sales, much of which came from the retail sector.

“I hope it (Younkers’ closing) is not a precursor to more that we will see,” Johnson said. “But, as we saw from last year, online sales have increased. That causes us concern.”

According to DigitalCommerce360.com, consumers spent $453.46 billion on the web for retail purchases in 2017, a 16 percent increase compared with $390.99 billion in 2016. That’s the highest growth rate since 2011 when online sales grew 17.5 percent over 2010.

Two other Conestoga Mall stores, Sears and J.C. Penney, have also struggled as the nation’s retail landscape changes. At the same time, Grand Island has seen the growth of strip malls throughout the community and revitalization of its downtown area, which was hurt by the retail shifts to the Conestoga Mall area starting in the 1970s.

Johnson said more and more consumers have products they purchase online, including groceries, delivered to their homes.

“That changes the landscape,” she said. “We have to acknowledge that the landscape of retail is changing. We encourage retailers to make that shopping experience so important and beneficial to the customer that the ease of shopping online is challenged by the experience of shopping in person.”


 

A fixture of the Grand Island retail community, Younkers Department Store at the Conestoga Mall, will be closing within the next 10-12 weeks.

Younkers is owned by The Bon-Ton, which announced Tuesday it will be liquidating all of its 267 stores as the company files for bankruptcy. Along with Younkers, the department store chain, which also owns banners Carson’s, and Elder-Beerman. The Bon-Ton has been a national retailer for 120 years.

The Younkers Department store has been a part of the Conestoga Mall since 1987. That is the year Younkers purchased Brandeis, which was a Nebraska-based department store chain out of Omaha. It was part of the Conestoga Mall since the mall opened in 1975.

Younkers officials at the Grand Island store referred all comments to its parent company.

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