As I type this at approximately 6:27 PM Central Time, the Bon-Ton stores will be open for less than three hours, then it’s all over. All the department stores that were a part of this corporation – Carson Pirie Scott, Bergner’s, Younkers, Elder-Beerman and Boston Store, will call it quits after decades of service. But it was Younkers I remember best.
Younker Brothers got its start in Iowa’s capitol city, Des Moines.
Like so many back around 100 years ago, they operated out of a huge, ornate multi-story building in the heart of downtown Des Moines.
Of course, as with pretty much every department store between the 1940s and the 1970s, they were moved out to the malls, and did very well for themselves. So much so that back in the early ’90s, The Bon-Ton bought Younkers lock, stock and barrel.
So while it was business as usual at the various and sundry Younkers spread throughout the Midwest, it was now part of a larger family of department stores, including Carson Pirie Scott in Chicagoland, Bergners, Boston Store, Herbergers, Elder Beerman and The Bon Ton itself.
It all came to a grinding halt this spring, and all the stores’ days were numbered. I knew since at least 2016 that the corporation was having financial issues, but I, like many, hoped they would get things sorted out.
Unfortunately, the point of no return had been reached, and all stores were to be liquidated and closed. Despite a last ditch attempt to keep at least a fraction of the stores in operation, it was not successful.
Right after the announcement was made that all the stores were going to close, I heard on a Facebook group, The Golden Age of the Department Store, that the Burlington, IA Younkers was a time capsule straight out of the 1970s, so I decided one Saturday in May to check it out.
They weren’t wrong. These awesome mosaic tiles and exterior lamps greeted me upon my arrival.
The entire exterior had not seen the early 1990s upgrades that my local Younkers in Moline had gotten. It was a real time capsule.
I didn’t take a lot of interior pictures, but I had to get a shot of this vintage wooden recessed lighting!
On that Saturday in May, the place was plenty busy, and there was still lots of interesting merchandise. I myself found a nice navy blue golf shirt.
And so it went. If I was nearby, I often visited a Bon-Ton store and usually found some item that I felt I needed to buy.
In early July I snuck up to the lake, visited a couple antique malls in Beloit, Wisconsin, then drove the 12 or so miles further north to Janesville, where I found most excellent 1970 and 1971 Thunderbird deluxe brochures at an antique store downtown-and a nice coral golf shirt at the Boston Store at the Janesville mall.
I visited our Moline Younkers frequently, often finding something, but just as often wandering about, taking it in while I still could. For a while I thought about grabbing this classy club chair, but never pulled the trigger, as I didn’t really need it.
And then, last night, August 28. I stopped by, to say good bye.
It was getting really empty.
As I walked the sidewalk outside, various SUVs were parked out front, as people were loading display tables and racks they’d bought. Perhaps they’d have better luck at the retail game.
But I didn’t buy anything last night. I just walked the store, looking around, and hoping for the best for all the soon-to-be displaced employees. We’ve seen this before. With Toys R Us, with Venture, with Zayre, with a multitude of retail operations that we all liked. That we all patronized. Until it was gone. Be well, Bon-Ton employees. I hope you all land on your feet. And good bye, Younkers.