Elder-Beerman’s fate could be decided today: What shoppers should know

The parent company of Elder-Beerman could find out its fate today depending on whether it’s sold at auction to a buyer that wants to liquidate the company or reorganize it.

Local jobs and stores are on the line. Bon-Ton Stores Inc., which operates Elder-Beerman and other retail chains, warned late last week that the 122 employees at the Dayton Mall store could be laid off and the store could close.

PHOTOS: 11 images of Elder-Beerman’s long history in Dayton

Bon-Ton filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February. The retailer — which operates brands like Boston Store and Younkers — has struggled for years with debt and declining sales as online competitors have grown and shopping habits have shifted away from department stores.

Chris Snyder, Miami Twp. development director, said in a statement that the township government officials “are monitoring developments as the retail landscape changes and are working with property owners to see how best to move forward”

Mall owners Namdar Realty Group and Washington Prime Group Inc. are believed to be among those trying to buy the company and could reorganize the company so it could continue to stay in business. Washington Prime is also the Dayton Mall and Mall at Fairfield Commons landlord.

The company’s sale could also affect the future of hundreds of local jobs at other stores around the area in Piqua, Huber Heights and the Mall at Fairfield Commons in Beavercreek, and Kettering Towne Center.

MORE: If Washington Prime buys Bon-Ton, what happens to Elder-Beerman?

There’s a separate Elder Beerman Furniture Gallery down the road from the Dayton Mall that is not part of the lay off warnings issued to the mall store.

Bon-Ton also has a distribution center in Fairborn. Bon-Ton's landlord STAG Fairborn LLC argued in an April 9 court filing that it is owed no less than $133,651 to settle its debt for the distribution center. STAG is among a long list of debtors — from landlords to utility companies to Google — trying to get what they allege they are owed by Bon-Ton.

Bon-Ton sent a 60-day notice to state officials on Friday warning of layoffs that could start as soon as June 5 at the Dayton Mall store as well as for the 330 employees at the Bon-Ton fulfillment center in West Jefferson.

Bon-Ton said in a statement Saturday that it is required under law to provide notification of potential layoffs, but is still evaluating options and hopes the jobs will be preserved after the company’s sale.

“Bon-Ton is in active discussions with an investor group to acquire the company in a court-supervised sale process,” the retailer stated. “We are encouraged by the interest in Bon-Ton and we hope that jobs will be preserved through a sale process. We remain committed to pursuing the best path forward for the Company and its stakeholders, including Bon-Ton associates.”

RELATED: Dayton Mall prepared for retailers like Elder-Beerman to leave

Elder-Beerman was acquired in 2003 by Bon-Ton, but can trace its roots back to a Dayton dry good store that opened in 1883.

“For the Dayton area, its kind of a shame because Elder-Beerman is such a long known and established brand,” Kelly Gray, vice president at Equity Inc., where she focuses on retail real estate.

Riley Dugan, assistant marketing professor at University of Dayton, said one of the challenges in retail is figuring out how to stand out as a unique experience that can’t be replaced by going online.

“It certainly isn’t a death knell for retail in south Dayton, but I think it’s a warning to would be retailers in order to differentiate yourself from online shopping platforms you really have to think about how you do business, maybe change things up a bit.”

Gray said while the parent company has been struggling for a while, the Dayton Mall and other shopping centers have been able to find new tenants for vacant department stores.

An Outback Steakhouse is going to open at the Dayton Mall where the Sears Auto Center closed. And in Trotwood, manufacturers like Epix Tube and Specialty Manufacturing Solutions have taken over vacant big box stores.

“We’ve seen backfilling of numerous departments stores with other retailers and other uses. I would expect this will be the same thing,” Gray said.

Dayton Mall: By the numbers

24,200: Average vehicles passing per day on Ohio 725

1.4 million: Size in square feet

59,391: Households within 5 miles

Source: Washington Prime Group

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