WILKES-BARRE — If you wanted to take advantage of Bon-Ton’s going-out-of-business sale, you’re too late.
The chain’s Wyoming Valley Mall location closed its doors for good on Wednesday afternoon, as the company shut down its remaining stores in multiple states following a four-and-a-half month liquidation process.
“It’s sad to see emptiness from one end of the store to the other,” store manager Mia McLean said as the 4 p.m. closing time drew close.
“Myself and so many of the employees have memories here,” added McLean, who had been with the company for 35 years and worked at the Wyoming Valley Mall location for the past two decades.
Bon-Ton had been a staple at the mall since 1971.
The 120-year old company, which was founded in York, announced April 17 that it would shut down all 267 stores after two liquidators, Great American Group and Tiger Capital Group, won the company at auction.
Its departure left the mall with two empty anchor stores, after Sears closed its location here earlier this summer.
The mall is owned by Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), which owns or manages 21 malls in the Mid-Atlantic, South and Great Lakes regions.
PREIT officials previously have said they were in talks with several possible replacement tenants.
Amanda Hoprich, marketing director for PREIT at the Viewmont Mall and Wyoming Valley Mall, said the company had no comment on the status of replacing Sears and Bon-Ton when contacted Wednesday.
McLean and her staff have had four months to brace for the end, but that didn’t make it any less poignant.
“I look at the associate names and their years of service,” McLean said as she looked at tables set up with each employee’s name.
With the closure, approximately 100 employees find themselves jobless after Wednesday.
“I knew a lot of them for many years. I’m going to miss them,” she added. “About 95 percent of my employees stayed till the end and that’s a true testament to the dedicated employees they were.”
The company got together with local unemployment agencies and gave employees packets on how to apply for unemployment and how and where to look for another job, she explained.
“We are out of work. We were still entitled to our vacation days and received a minimal severance,” said McLean. “Unfortunately, bankruptcy doesn’t allow for much more.”
New life for fixtures
Bon-Ton’s demise unexpectedly benefited other businesses bouncing back from a crisis.
Two stores that moved onto the mall property after their previous locations were damaged by the June 13 tornado were able to take advantage of bargain prices on items needed to get back up and running.
“Polish Pottery and Ashley Furniture were able to come to our building and buy a lot of our fixtures so they can re-open their stores,” McLean said. “In a way, it’s nice to see that we were able to help another business.”
Overall, though, she found it hard to find a silver lining as the longtime department store faded from the scene.
“Bon-Ton’s closing is going to be a big loss to the community,” McLean said. “We did a lot of fundraisers to help the community we all loved so well.”
Among the community members shopping for a bargain Wednesday afternoon was Kate Morris.
“I was driving past the mall to go to the eye doctor,” said Morris, 77, of Wilkes-Barre. “I didn’t know today was the last-ever day.”
Morris said she had been coming to the Bon-Ton since it opened in the area nearly 50 years ago.
“I’m disappointed the Bon-Ton is closing,” she said. “The store was always clean, had quality merchandise and the very best part was its associates.”
Reach Dan Stokes at 570-991-6389 or on Twitter @ByDanStokes