'We are disappointed:' Bon-Ton Stores going out of business after liquidation firms win bid at bankruptcy auction

MILWAUKEE — The Bon-Ton Stores, which operates 260 department stores in the U.S., is expected to go out of businesses after two liquidation firms became the highest bidders at an auction for the bankrupt company's assets Tuesday.

A bankruptcy court hearing was scheduled Wednesday to approve the sale and liquidation details, but a statement from the company's CEO suggested the end for The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. is certain.

"While we are disappointed by this outcome and tried very hard to identify bidders interested in operating the business as a going concern, we are committed to working constructively with the winning bidder to ensure an orderly wind-down of operations," said President and CEO Bill Tracy.

The 160-year-old company has survived economic recessions and depressions, but like several other brick-and-mortar retailers in recent years it couldn't survive the shift toward e-commerce, led by Amazon.com Inc.

The Bon-Ton Stores has a strong presence in Wisconsin, where it operates nine stores and employs 2,255 people who will lose their jobs. One of the company's headquarters is in downtown Milwaukee.

"The stores obviously have been a part of this community for decades and decades and it's sad to see them go," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Liquidation firms Great American Group and Tiger Capital Group were the highest bidders for the company's assets and no one else was willing to outbid them to continue store operations.

The Bon-Ton Stores was operating 260 stores in 24 states, largely in the Northeast and Midwest, when it filed for bankruptcy in January. The stores operate under different names, including Younkers, Boston Store and Carson's.

Cultural retail behemoth Toys R Us is also going through liquidation and in March initiated a going-out-of-business sale at its U.S. stores after operating under bankruptcy protection for months.

"I don't think there are too many willing investors in brick and mortar stores now. They've seen what's going on. I think people are nervous," said Purush Papatla, marketing professor and interim Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "Essentially liquidators have an open field."

The businesses The Bon-Ton Stores has across the country sometimes serve as anchors at malls, and their departure could impact other businesses nearby with less foot traffic, Papatla said.

One Boston Store is located in Milwaukee's Shops of Grand Avenue mall.

"It's part of a national transformation," Barrett said. "Consumer preferences are changing dramatically and changing very fast right now."

Below is a statement from the Village of Greendale -- where there's a Boston Store at Southridge Mall:

"We recently learned that Boston Store is closing all of their stores across the nation. Prior to hearing this news, the Village reached out to the owner of the property to discuss plans to redevelop the anchor site should the store close. We plan on meeting with representatives from the owners of the anchor site as soon as possible.

The Village has always looked for ways to improve the Southridge Mall Area and the 76th Street Business Corridor. Over the years, the Village has developed a close partnership with the Mall owners, Simon Property Group. Simon Property Group owns hundreds of malls around the world. We will keep working with Simon and the other property owners in the Mall area to continue the effort that led to the revitalization of the Southridge Mall area. Our past efforts have led to many developments and redevelopments in the Mall area.

Some examples of these developments and redevelopments include:

  • The addition of the Ruby Tuesday's restaurant.

  • The empty Kohl's grocery store was remodeled into the Bed Bath and Beyond store.

  • Southridge Plaza renovated all its store fronts.

  • The addition of the Berkshire Greendale 90 unit Senior Housing complex.

  • Conversion of empty Younkers department store building into the new $16 million Macy's department store.

  • The $65 million interior/exterior renovation of Southridge Mall.

  • The $8 million Southridge Boston Store renovation.

  • The Leath Furniture building was removed and the site was reconfigured to accommodate the Panda Express and Longhorn Steakhouse Restaurants.

  • The former Borders Book Store was converted to Designer Shoe Warehouse.

  • The empty Bowling Congress building was removed and the 10-acre parcel converted to a Neighborhood Walmart, Chick fil-A, and U.S. Cellular (converting $3.5 million vacant property into a $15 million value addition to tax roles.)

  • The Village acquired the contaminated and vacated former F&F Tire Center and adjacent parcel and are in the process of turning it into the Greenbelt Apartment, a 160 unit complex of three building with upscale amenities.

  • The Marcus Bistroplex opened earlier this year. The Bistroplex includes 8 theatres with in theatre dining.

  • A multi-million dollar redevelopment of the former Sears store at the Mall, which consists of multiple tenant spaces, a new Dick’s Sporting Goods Store, and a Round 1 Bowling and Amusement Complex.