Elder-Beerman’s closure Wednesday marks end of an era

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
The final Elder-Beerman stores officially closed their doors on Wednesday, leaving behind a legacy in the Miami Valley that will be remembered.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Customers picked over the last remaining items for sale at area Elder-Beerman stores on Wednesday as the company ended 135 year of doing business in the Dayton area.

Bon-Ton, Elder-Beerman’s parent company, filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in February and started liquidation sales in April. Those liquidation sales came to an end Wednesday, as all stores, including the Elder-Beerman locations in Huber Heights and at the Mall at Fairfield Commons and Dayton Mall closed their doors for the last time.

When the Elder-Beerman furniture store in Miami Twp. opened on Wednesday, customers were met with just six pieces of furniture left.

“I feel almost like crying, but I wanted to come back for the final time,” said Darlene Johnson of Wilmington as she left the Dayton Mall location.

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Bon-Ton, which employed about 24,000 people, operated roughly 250 stores in 23 states under the Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers brands.

In the Dayton area, the closure means the loss of hundreds of jobs and massive empty retail spaces, some larger than 200,000 square feet.

John Jackson, a Goshen resident, used to live in Fairborn and worked at the Elder-Beerman distribution center there before it closed. He said it’s unfortunate that the company is closing down because it was always easily available work.

“I think it’s all moving to Amazon probably, and that I’m not happy about because I’m not a huge fan of Amazon,” Jackson said.

He said he does online shop sometimes but prefers to see and hold the product he’s going to buy to ensure it’s what he thinks it is.

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“I just wish they would stay open. I don’t know about profits or anything, but just stay open so we can have that option available,” Jackson said.

Johnson said she suspects Bon-Ton’s purchase of long-time Dayton-based Elder-Beerman may also have contributed to the demise of the department store.

Going to Elder-Beerman was a family affair for Johnson, who was raised in Centerville and lived in Springboro for years, as both her mother and father used to work at the store. When her dad worked there, he used to bring home dresses for his wife. Johnson would push her mother around the Dayton Mall Elder-Beerman in her wheelchair when she got older.

She also remembers when there was an Elder-Beerman in downtown Dayton.

While at the store Wednesday, she purchased a couple sweaters, a pair of jeans and some shoes. She said she was finding great deals, at 70 to 90 percent off and an additional 40 percent off the entire purchase.

But the inventory was low at the Dayton Mall on the final day. Rugs and fixtures were displayed across the first floor, with about 18 clothing racks worth of apparel, some cosmetics and a limited supply of shoes. Signs indicated the top floor had no merchandise.

About 95 percent of total Bon-Ton inventory had been sold by Monday, said Scott Carpenter, president of Great American Group, the company hired by Bon-Ton to liquidate its assets. While the Great American Group doesn’t disclose sales revenue, the liquidated merchandise was valued at more than $2.2 billion.

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What will become of the local, vacant Elder-Beerman stores is still unknown. Few department store companies are looking to expand into large spaces, but there’s still optimism among local retail experts and mall leaders that the stores will be filled.

Mixed-use spaces and experiences have become key focuses for shopping center owners as consumer shopping habits change. Some options for the large spaces include entertainment centers with laser tag, arcades, bowling and trampolines, said Andrew Feinblatt of OnSite Realty.

The space could also be broken into smaller, specialty shops, said Gordon Gough of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

Or the owners could knock down the anchor spaces altogether and add outward facing restaurants like the Mall at Fairfield Commons did in 2015 after its two Elder-Beerman stores consolidated into one.

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HISTORY OF THE COMPANY

Elder-Beerman, which grew from a Dayton dry goods store to one of the Midwest’s great emporiums before a decades-long dirge through bankruptcies and quarterly losses, is closing. The following timeline is sourced using Dayton Daily News and Journal-Herald archives.

1883: An advertisement in the Dayton Daily Journal announces the establishment of the Boston Dry Goods Store. One of the owners is Thomas Elder.

1896: Elder moves his store to the Reibold Building at Fourth and Main streets. This becomes the Elder & Johnston Co. department store's home for more than six decades.

1950: Arthur Beerman enters the retail store ownership business and soon opens "Beermans for Bargains" junior department stores in the McCook and Northtown shopping centers.

1953: Bee-Gee Shoes formed in Beerman partnership with Max Gutmann.

1956: Beerman buys the downtown Home Store.

1962: Beerman merges his Beerman stores with the Elder & Johnston Co.

1963: The Northwest store at Philadelphia Drive and Siebenthaler Avenue opens.

1968: The Hamilton store opens in the downtown redevelopment area. Shortly thereafter, the Richmond, Ind., store opens.

1970: Arthur Beerman dies; Max Gutmann becomes president.

1976: The Courthouse Square store in downtown Dayton opens. The store is five floors, including the basement.

1978: The chain moves into Hamilton County with the purchase of the downtown and suburban Cincinnati Mabley & Carew stores.

1981: Margos La Mode chain purchased.

1987: Elder-Beerman stores open in Michigan.

1989: Elder-Beerman acquires 10 Meis department stores located in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky, bringing the total number of the companys department stores to 43.

1991: Total number of Elder-Beerman department stores rises to 47. Gutmann retires; Milton Hartley named president; distribution center opens in Fairborn.

1992: Newspaper reports Elder-Beerman Co. is negotiating to buy the 25-store H.C. Prange Co. department store chain of Green Bay, Wis.

1993: 50th store opens at the Mall on Fairfield Commons, Beavercreek.

1994: Beermans widow, Jessie Beerman, dies; Eastown store closes.

1995: Milton Hartley resigns; Max Gutmann and Herbert Glaser return from retirement as chief executives.

1996: With 52 stores, Elder-Beerman files five-year plan asking court to remain independent. Company asks for second extension of time to file reorganization plan.

1997: Frederick J. Mershad hired from Proffitt's Inc. as new president and chief executive. The company files reorganization plan. A settlement is reached that prevents Carson Pirie Scott and Proffitt's from attempting a takeover of Elder-Beerman, at least until after Jan. 31, 1999. The company completes bankruptcy reorganization on Dec. 30.

1998: Elder-Beerman is an independent company with stock, held largely by creditors, traded on Nasdaq. In a surprise announcement, Elder-Beerman unveiled plans to replace McAlpin's in the Dayton Mall. After 17 months in the mall, McAlpin's said it failed to find a suitable site for a second Dayton area store. In the fall, Elder-Beerman signed a 10-year lease on the 82,000-square-foot Lazarus department store at the Lazarus Kettering Shopping Center.

1999: Elder-Beerman finished its first year as a publicly held company following bankruptcy proceedings with rising sales and growing profits. Later, a Washington state-based investment group purchased a large chunk of Elder-Beerman Stores Corp. stock and demanded that the board either fire top management or sell the company.

2000: Elder-Beerman sells Shoebilee Inc. for $10 million. Elder-Beerman's board begins looking for a buyer, entering into confidentiality agreements with eight parties.

2001: Reynolds & Reynolds moves into three floors of the five-floor Courthouse Square store, leaving the department store with two selling floors. Elder-Beerman reports losses.

2002: Former Mead Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Steven C. Mason, is named Elder-Beerman chairman. Former Belk Inc. executive Byron "Bud" Bergren is named president and chief executive. Elder-Beerman closes its Courthouse Square store, downtown Dayton's last department store, amid a dispute over lease rates.

2003: After a lengthy bidding war, York, Pa.-based Bon-Ton acquired Elder-Beerman for $92.8 million. The acquisition is Bon-Ton's largest, doubling the size of the company from 72 stores to 140 stores across 17 states.

2004: Bon-Ton announced the elimination of 311 of 450 jobs at the Elder-Beerman Stores Corp. headquarters in Moraine. Bon-Ton management acknoledges the company "did not properly anticipate" challenges with the merger. Bergren, who engaged in a bidding war against Bon-Ton and lost, is named the company's chief executive and president.

2006: Bon-Ton announced plans to purchase four Parisian department stores — including the Beavercreek store— from Belk Inc.

2007: Bon-Ton announced plans to renovate and reconfigure its Elder-Beerman and recently acquired Parisian stores at Fairfield Commons Mall and operate both under the Elder-Beerman nameplate.

2009: Bon-Ton announces the elimination of 1,150 positions and announces plans to close its Elder-Beerman store in Hamilton.

2010: Elder-Beerman in Centerville closes to make way for Kroger.

2011: Bon-Ton announces closure of the Northwest Plaza shopping center, scheduled to close in 2012. Bergren announces retirement as chief executive to become chairman of the board. He is replaced as chief executive by Brendan Hoffman.

2012: Elder-Beerman store at Upper Valley Mall set for closure.

2014: Two Elder-Beerman stores at Fairfield Commons are combined under a consolidated store. Bon-Ton announces move of jobs from Fairborn distribution center to a new distribution center in West Jefferson, near Columbus. Kathryn Bufano is named president and chief executive officer.

2017: Middletown Elder-Beerman store closes. Bon-Ton president and chief executive Bufano resigns, and former chief operating officer William Tracy takes over. Bon-Ton hires a restructuring firm to look into bankruptcy as it grapples with more than $900 million of debt.

2018: Bon-Ton files for bankruptcy.