Elder-Beerman department store — which traces its roots back to Dayton 135 years ago — is winding down operations after a high profile bankruptcy that not only spelled the end of the retailer but also raised questions about the health of local malls.
Just weeks are left before Bon-Ton Inc., the parent company of Elder-Beerman, sells what’s left on its shelves at area stores. The company has been offering sales discounts up to 75 percent for the past week in hopes of closing area locations before September.
The Elder-Beerman department store chain has long been a staple of the Dayton community since an 1883 advertisement in the Dayton Daily Journal announced the establishment of the Boston Dry Goods Store, owned in-part by Thomas Elder. The venture became the Elder & Johnson Company in 1911.
Elder-Beerman was established when Elder & Johnston merged with Dayton’s Beerman Stores in 1962.
After a lengthy bidding war, York, Pa.-based Bon-Ton acquired Elder-Beerman in 2003 for $92.8 million at a time when the local store had just exited bankruptcy.
JoAnn Berger of Kettering said she was sadden by the closing of Elder-Beerman.
“My mother brought me here long ago to buy me my first dress. It’s been a staple here for as long as I’ve known,” Berger said.
Today, Elder-Beerman has 31 stores, including those at the Dayton Mall, Mall at Fairfield Common and four others at Dayton-area locations. The Upper Valley Mall in Springfield and Middletown’s mall once housed Elder-Beerman stores.
All together, Bon-Ton owned and operates 260 stores under the Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers nameplates.
Management at several local stores said they don’t have an exact date when locations will close, adding that the only date they been told is the end of August.
But stores nationwide may begin closing within the next two to three weeks, said Scott Carpenter, vice president of retail solutions for the Great American Group, the company hired to liquidate Bon-Ton stores.
“As we increase discounts, the sales velocity will increase and stores will begin to run out of merchandise,” Carpenter said. “Since we are not getting any more product, stores will begin to close as they run out of merchandise.”
Most Elder-Beerman stores are operating sales at 50 to 75 percent off, and last week the company ran Fourth of July sales offering an extra 20 percent off on top of the liquidation discount. The sale runs through Tuesday.
About 50 percent of the company’s leftover merchandise has been sold since liquidation sales started in April, according to Carpenter. The bankruptcy court gave the company until Aug. 31 to complete sales.
“The warehouses have essentially been emptied now,” Carpenter said. “Only a very little bit of merchandise remains to be transferred to the stores. We will begin balancing the remaining merchandise from the lower volume stores to the higher volume stores.”
The Elder-Beerman store at the Mall at Fairfield Commons is one of the stores that may stay open until late August, according to employees. Aside from signs covering the store announcing current discounts, it would be hard to tell the store is closing. The racks and displays are full of merchandise.
Signs around the store indicate that racks and structures are now on sale in addition to regular products.
The Elder-Beerman store at the Dayton Mall is also expected to be open until late August, said employees. The location also has a a large stock of merchandise still available.
The wind down of the retailer means the loss of hundreds of retail jobs at its local stores in Piqua, Huber Heights and Kettering as well as the region’s two largest malls: Dayton Mall and the Mall at Fairfield Commons.
Before Bon-Ton announced it was going out of business, the company employed about 24,000 people.
Earlier this summer, Great American Group hired some employees for the liquidation process.
“The stores are closing forever so there is no long-term employment opportunity for these folks,” Carpenter said. “They find new jobs and move on. We are happy to help them move on with their lives but we still need people to provide customer service in the stores.”
Loren DeFillippo, Colliers International director of research for Ohio, said what happen to Elder-Beerman is happening to stores like K-Mart and Sears — people just weren’t excited about the brand anymore.
“It’s just a shakeout time for retailers who can’t keep up,” he said.
Chris Kershner, executive vice president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, previously told this media outlet that Bon-Ton’s liquidation is reflective of retail changes happening across the country. Despite economic planning and a diverse retail landscape, a national retailer’s demise is beyond anything local malls can salvage, he said.
“That’s pretty difficult,” he said. “It’s much greater than Dayton. Certainly losing Elder-Beerman and their presence, those jobs, will have an impact. I would say we have, as a community, already made an effort to revitalize some of our mall areas.”
Most Elder-Beerman stores are located within local malls, so closures could have a detrimental effect on multiple shopping centers. Elder-Beerman has stores in Piqua, Huber Heights, the Mall at Fairfield Commons in Beavercreek, the Kettering Towne Center, among others in Ohio.
The liquidation is also closing the distribution center in Fairborn. About 96 employees worked at the facility.
Retailers — like Bon-Ton Stores, Sears, even Toys “R” Us — that have typically anchored malls and shopping centers are shutting down thousands of stores across the country. The dying chains are another sign of the traditional retailer’s inability to adapt and compete with online retailers like Amazon.
More than 12,000 stores are expected to close in 2018 — up from roughly 9,000 in 2017, according to Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate brokerage firm. The retail industry is greatly important to the country’s economy as it supports one in four jobs across the country.
In Ohio, more than 60 grocery, eyewear, shoe, auto, clothing and other retail companies are headquartered — making the fast decline of brick-and-mortar stores even more alarming for local and state economies.
Plans are underway to re-brand the Dayton Mall and the surrounding area as the Miami Crossing District, Chris Snyder, board member with the Miami Twp.-Dayton Mall Joint Economic Development District, told this news organization last year.
The district would include 2.2 square-miles around the Dayton Mall, which already includes more than 400 businesses, 3.7 million square-feet of retail space and 200,000 square feet of restaurant space. Miami Twp. and Miamisburg adopted a master plan for the district that calls for more than $200 million to be invested which would result in new landscaping and redesigned outdoor spaces.
The Beerman family has been well-known for its philanthropy efforts in the Miami Valley. One of its most well-known giving efforts was the Beerman Annual Thanksgiving Dayton Dinner.
In 1969, Arthur Beerman, the founder of Elder-Beerman Stores Corp., hosted the first Thanksgiving dinner open to anyone in the region at Hara Arena.
After 40 years, the dinner changed sponsorship, and today it’s called the Feast of Giving.
The dinner was started when Arthur Beerman suffered a heart attack in 1969. He received mountains of cards from well-wishers and he decided to start the dinner to return thanks to the community.
During the first dinner, more than 3,000 people attended the dinner and enjoyed 1,300 pounds of turkey, 500 pies, 90 gallons of gravy and 90 steam pans of dressing. Folks danced to the Hal Harris band and clowns entertained the children.
Tom Hamlin, 85, of Trotwood said he remembered going to the dinner with friends.
“We didn’t need the free food, but it was an occasion to spend time with friends from your neighborhood and give thanks for what we had. The Beerman family was very generous,” Hamlin said.
Reporter Will Garbe contributed to this story.
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