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Bergners 1 4.18.18

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. has confirmed closure of all their Bergner's stores, including the Hickory Point Mall location.

FORSYTH — A going-out-of business sale is imminent at the Bergner's in Hickory Point Mall, one of 260 stores that bankrupt parent company The Bon-Ton Stores is expected to sell in assets to liquidators to pay off creditors.

Forty-two of the affected stores are in Illinois, including the Bergner’s at Eastland Mall in Bloomington, White Oaks Mall in Springfield and Market Place Shopping Center in Champaign, and the Carson’s store in Cross County Mall in Mattoon.

"It's going to be painful for the people who work there; it's going to be painful for the malls trying to fill the space because there's a lot of malls out there and a lot of empty space," said Gary Hunter, an Illinois State University professor who teaches retail management and promotion and consumer behaviors.

Hunter does not see the dissolution of Bon-Ton as another sign of the demise of brick-and-mortar retailing any time soon, noting that about 90 percent of merchants remain in store buildings.

In addition to Bergner's and Carson’s, Bon-Ton operates department stores under the brand names of Elder-Beerman, Herberger's, Boston Store, Younkers and Bon-Ton. 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 store chain.

Bergner's has been a key tenant at Hickory Point Mall since the mall opened in 1978. In recent years, the mall has seen major anchors such as J.C. Penney and Sears leave. In their place have come stores such as Hobby Lobby and TJ Maxx, which left Decatur locations for the mall, and Ross Dress for Less.

Rather than look at what Forsyth is losing with the planned closure, Mayor Marilyn Johnson would prefer to look at what the future may hold.

“It would be the perfect spot for a grocery store,” Johnson said of the mall.

A grocery store has long been atop the wish list of Forsyth residents, Johnson said, citing repeated community surveys.

Looking at the selection of food items at the Forsyth Menards Home Improvement Center is a good indicator of a need to be filled, Johnson said. She thinks a good fit would be The Fresh Market, a specialty grocery chain with more than 170 locations.

Recent economic development efforts have been successful at filling some of those other wants, including a pharmacy and dry cleaners. The community has welcomed a host of other businesses in the past year, she said, and expects Andrew Zupkoff, the community and economic development coordinator, to bring even more.

“I think very positive,” she said. “This is just a change in the mall.”

She described the general feeling among people she has spoken with as one of sadness to see the business go. Some understand that the change has little to do with Forsyth and is more national in scope.

Again, keeping that positive feeling, she prefers to look at the stores the mall has welcomed recently – namely Hobby Lobby and TJ Maxx.

Bon-Ton said it expects to provide more details about going-out-of-business sales following approval of the winning bid by the bankruptcy court.

Those details were not available late Wednesday afternoon, but the company said in a statement that it "will move forward in a constructive manner to ensure an orderly wind-down of operations that minimizes the impact of this development on our associates, customers, vendors and the communities we serve."

Bon-Ton did not respond to requests to provide the number of workers it employs at the Forsyth store.

CBL Properties, which owns the Forsyth mall, reiterated Wednesday it was preparing for the stores' closures. A spokeswoman said the company did not anticipate the announcement having a negative effect on future plans.

Illinois Retail Merchants Association CEO and President Rob Karr said a realignment in the retail sector has affected the fate of Bon Ton stores, which are often located in malls.

"We're seeing significant changes and traffic in malls,” Karr said. “I think those combinations lead to where we are at today."

Some malls are going to go away while others re-purpose, Karr added.

"I don't think you're going to see those big (anchor store) spaces filled with one big operator, as in the past. You might see them subdivided," said Karr. "I think mall owners are going to look at more non-traditional ways of filling those spaces. For example, you could see grocery stores ... or multiple medical offices or facilities filling those spaces."

In an effort to even the playing field between online and “brick-and-mortar” retailers, South Dakota is taking the lead.

Interactive: Bon-Ton stores in Illinois that will close

Forty-two Illinois stores are among 260 stores in 24 states that will close as part of the purchase of The Bon-Ton Stores by liquidators.

In arguments this week before the U.S. Supreme Court, the state’s Attorney General Marty Jackley said the justices should allow states collect sales taxes from most online retailers.

The court is expected to make a decision by late June.

"While leveling the sales tax playing field with online merchants is important and vital, it is not going to be the only thing that needs to be done to help support the local business community," Karr said.

"Local and state governments need to start coordinating and looking at what each other does that piles costs or regulations on businesses. Those all add up."

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