041718-blm-loc-1bergners (copy)

The Bon-Ton Stores, parent company of the Eastland Mall Bergner's, will liquidate its stores. The company filed for bankruptcy in January.

BLOOMINGTON — Going-out-of business sales are imminent at the Bergner's in Eastland Mall in Bloomington and Hickory Point Mall in Forsyth.

"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.

"In terms of Bloomington, we'll be short another department store. The mall is going to be emptier, of course, and may find some new tenants to fill the space, and not necessarily, a department store."

But 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, Bon-Ton operates department stores under the brand names of Carson's, 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.

The company 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 Pantagraph requests to provide the number of workers it employs at the Eastland and Hickory Point mall stores.

"We're seeing a realignment in the retail sector," said Illinois Retail Merchants Association CEO and President Rob Karr. "They're heavily mall-based. We're seeing significant changes and traffic in malls. 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."

CBL Properties, which owns the Eastland and Forsyth malls, reiterated Wednesday it was preparing for the stores' closures.

"We do not anticipate that this announcement will have a negative impact on future plans," said CBL spokeswoman Stacey Keating. "As mentioned (Tuesday), construction is underway on Planet Fitness and H&M (in the former J.C. Penney space) at Eastland Mall, and we are evaluating redevelopment plans that include new retail for the Macy’s space.

Meanwhile, South Dakota is leading the effort to even the playing field between online and "brick-and-mortar" sellers.

In arguments this week before the U.S. Supreme Court, South Dakota 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," said Karr.

"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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Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle


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