I was surprised there still was so much to choose from.
Despite the big “Going Out of Business” banner on the building, inventory at the Bon-Ton store at Wilton Mall was pretty flush late last week. And on some racks of women’s clothes, along with the colorful percent-off signs, a note on green paper alerted shoppers to watch for new arrivals daily.
Say what? Bon-Ton’s stores have been in the hands of liquidators since mid-April after the regional chain filed for bankruptcy. Great American Group of Los Angeles and Tiger Capital of New York City are running the big sale, which bankruptcy court documents indicate will conclude by Aug. 31.
The liquidators, along with a group of bondholders, submitted the winning bid for Bon-Ton’s assets at auction, beating out another interested liquidation group and a partnership of mall owners/developers that tried to rescue the retailer and keep the stores open.
While Great American and Tiger attempt to sell everything within the stores, including fixtures and equipment, A&G Realty Partners of Long Island will dispose of Bon-Ton’s real estate, which includes 212 leased stores in malls and shopping centers; four distributions centers; and 30 owned sites — larger stores carrying Bon-Ton’s other nameplates, including Younkers, Bergner’s and Carson’s.
Those stores became part of Bon-Ton in 2005 with the acquisition of 140 stores in the upper Midwest from Saks, parent of the Fifth Avenue brand.
The deal doubled Bon-Ton’s store count but added a lot of debt. It also made the company “less able to quickly respond to fast-emerging digital trends that reduced shopping trips to malls and department stores,” one retail observer wrote recently in Forbes, juxtaposing Bon-Ton’s acquisition with a similarly large one by Macy’s that same year. Macy’s hit some bumps, too, but adapted better.
Bon-Ton, though, just couldn’t get traction as revenue drifted lower while losses rose.
The company took a stab at restructuring in January, announcing plans to close 40 stores, but the bankruptcy filing quickly followed in February.
All of Bon-Ton’s 13 New York stores are leased; most are in malls. The lease on the nearly 72,000-square-foot anchor spot at Wilton Mall runs through January 2022, according to an A&G Realty spreadsheet.
Without the “Going Out of Business” reminders, the store didn’t look much different from the last time I was there. Displays were a bit sparse in the men’s department, and a lot of half-priced luggage occupied some of the space formerly used for women’s dresses. (Hanging racks and other fixtures were for sale where luggage used to be.)
But I’m still stumped by the “new arrivals” note. Maybe it’s inventory from other Bon-Ton stores or from other retailers also being liquidated. Bankruptcy documents indicate Great American/Tiger had approval to bring in the latter, but a company handling media inquiries for them failed to answer that question and others I posed.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]