Carson's parent files bankruptcy, closing 42 stores

Company announced restructuring program last week

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North Riverside received another unsettling jolt last week when The Bon Ton Stores Inc., parent company of Carson Pirie Scott department stores, announced it was closing 42 of its stores, including seven in Illinois, as part of its "store rationalization program."

But, things got a little more ominous on Feb. 5, when The Bon Ton Stores announced it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and that the outcome "may include a sale of the company or certain of its assets as part of the plan of reorganization."

"We are currently engaged in discussions with potential investors and our debtholders on a financial restructuring plan, and the actions we are taking are intended to give us additional time and financial flexibility to evaluate options for our business," said Bill Tracy, president and CEO of The Bon Ton Stores in a press release issued Feb. 5.

Among the stores closing are Carson's stores at Riverside Plaza in downtown Chicago, Schaumburg, Aurora, Morton Grove, Danville and DeKalb in addition a Bergner's store in Peoria.

The stores named for closure were scheduled to begin liquidation sales on Feb. 1 and are expected to close their doors for good within three months. 

"As part of the comprehensive turnaround plan we announced in November, we are taking the next steps in our efforts to move forward with a more productive store footprint," said Tracy in a press release issued Jan. 31.

The Bon Ton Stores previously announced the closures of five stores, none of them in Illinois, bringing the total number of stores closing in 2018 to 47. The company, which is headquartered in Milwaukee and York, Pennsylvania, operates 260 stores under the names Carson's, Bon-Ton, Bergner's, Boston Store, Elder-Beerman, Herberger's and Younkers.

A little less than 20 percent of the company's existing stores are slated to close.

North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said the village's Carson's location was a revenue producer for the company and that it would surprise him if the store came up for closure unless the entire company was liquidating.

"The productivity at that store is very good," Hermanek said.

The Bon Ton Stores spent about $1.3 million in 2015 to remodel the North Riverside store after a fire closed it for the 2014 holiday shopping season. The store was offline for more than three months.

The announcements regarding the store closures and bankruptcy came in the wake of a Jan. 29 Securities and Exchange Commission filing that outlined the company's two-year "turnaround" restructuring plan. The company analyzed its 100 worst performing stores and determined to close 42 and potentially sell three others.

The filing also states that there are an "additional 20+ stores that should be considered for inclusion on a 'watch list' to actively monitor for signs of further deterioration." Those "watch list" stores were not identified in the filing.

The filing also zeroes in on the company's online sales, which are described as "significantly underpenetrated, representing about 12 percent of the company's sales. The Bon Ton Stores wants to increase its e-commerce penetration to 20-percent, which the company estimates would bring in an additional $200 million dollars.

Carson Pirie Scott has served as one of North Riverside Park Mall's principal anchors since the shopping center was built in the mid-1970s. One of its other original anchors, Montgomery Ward, closed in 2001 and was replaced by Sears

Sears has already reduced its footprint at North Riverside Park Mall, consolidating its operations on the top floor of the northern anchor spot in late 2017. The third anchor store, J.C Penney, closed almost 140 locations in 2017. The company reportedly plans on closing a smaller number of stores in 2018.

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