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

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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