(Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photo)

It’s official. Bon-Ton will soon be going out of business for good. A bankruptcy judge has approved the sale of the company to a liquidator. All 260 stores in 24 states will close for good by the end of August. The sad part is their closures are not only affecting the beloved Bon-Ton shopper, but real estate and mall owners around the nation as well. Malls like Mckinley mall in Blasdell has already lost Macy’s last year and It’ll lose Bon-Ton soon and most likely its other anchor tenants namely Sears, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble and JC Penney who are all dealing with major financial struggles of their own.

Struggling with mounting debt and flagging sales, the 120-year-old department store chain Bon-Ton Stores filed for bankruptcy protection on Sunday, just days after announcing more than 40 store closures. They are one of the first department store victims of the retail apocalypse. Two liquidation firms are the victors of an auction for the bankrupt company’s assets, after the retailer failed to find a bidder willing to continue operating the business. A bankruptcy court approved the sale and liquidation details after a hearing last Wednesday. This post would take an in-depth look at Bon-Ton department stores, and how they got into the said situation.

They were founded in 1898 as a dry goods store in York Pennsylvania. They hadn’t started expanding until 1948 and from then on, continued their expansion heavily into the state. After this, they ventured out furthermore by buying 69 Elder-Beerman stores in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky and West Virginia in 2003. 2 years after that, they paid 1.1 Billion dollars to Saks and bought Carson Pirie-Scott, Younkers, Bergner’s, Boston Store and Herberger’s. In 2006, to mark the end of their acquisition spree, they bought 4 Parisian stores from Belk and converted them into Carson’s store fronts.

Bon-ton got weighed down in debt and with that they haven’t really been able to make capital improvements needed to survive in the online world. As giants like Amazon dominate the online sales, other department stores have dug in deep where Bon-Ton was simply too ill-equipped to compete. In the last several years, they have tried to shake up their businesses and survive with many CEOs all failing to do what was required and shuttering the doors of their most unprofitable stores.

It seems that the Darwinian law applies to the retailing species as much as any biological phylum. The phrase “bon ton” when translated in French means “the fashionable world.” Bon-Ton the store, if it succumbs to what seems to be inevitable, will only be doing what has sadly become fashionable in the world of retailing.

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