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Anchors aweigh: Warning signs aside, Bon-Ton closure hits home

  • Sherri Champagne talks about the closing of Bon-Ton outside the retailer at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Store associate Ashley Daniels of Loudon talks about the closing of Bon-Ton outside the retailer at Steeplegate Mall in Concord on Thursday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • The Bon-Ton at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. The retailer announced it is closing both its stores. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • A shopper leaves Bon-Ton at Steeplegate Mall in Concord on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. The retailer announced it is closing both its stores. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • The Bon-Ton at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. The retailer announced it is closing both its stores. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • The Bon-Ton at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. The retailer announced it is closing both its stores. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • The Bon-Ton at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord is seen Thursday. The retailer announced it is closing both its stores. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • An entrance to the Bon-Ton Mens and Home Store is seen at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. The retailer announced it is closing both its stores. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, February 01, 2018

Like other young people in the Concord area, Ashley Daniels grew up with Steeplegate Mall.

The Loudon resident
has a particular soft spot for the Bon-Ton. It was her and her grandmother’s favorite store. She said a number of the store’s staff watched her grow up – and two-and-a-half years ago, she joined them as an associate, her first real job.

And like everyone else who still visits the mall, she’s witnessed the stores shuttering one by one, seen the crowds thin out. And she figured things weren’t great at the Bon-Ton, either – she rarely hit her sales targets for the day, which is usually around $10,000, or $400 of business an hour. On Monday, she had three customers total during a five-hour shift.

Still, Daniels was surprised when management told her Wednesday afternoon that Bon-Ton would be closing its Concord store.

“I thought that ever since Burlington closed their store that we would get more traffic, since we’re the only one around for a while,” she said.

And even though she’s potentially got another job lined up, Daniels said she felt a little sad at the thought of the store closing in 10-12 weeks, the target date her employers gave her.

Daniels wasn’t alone – several people at the mall Thursday afternoon were upset by the impending departure of two of the mall’s few remaining anchor stores, one of 42 Bon-Tons in 14 states as part of the company’s continued restructuring.

They worried about what the store’s closing would mean for the mall, which – despite its accelerating depreciation in value and several vacant storefronts – still has a place in people’s hearts and a culture all its own.

What remains

Sherry Champagne of Penacook has been coming to the mall since it opened. She visits at least once a week, sometimes more, mostly to buy clothes at the department stores for her three grandchildren. She remembers when the mall used to be busy.

“Now, sometimes I walk around and it’s like I’m the only one there,” she said. “It’s kind of lonely.”

Looking at the half-empty parking lot, where maybe two dozen cars were parked, Champagne noted the store seemed busier than usual. “It’ll probably feel extra crowded today,” she said.

Daniels said the store has already started sharp markdowns, with everything 30-50 percent off. As the end date draws nearer, she said those price cuts will jump to 80 percent.

For anyone who remembers the mall during its heyday – think around 2008, when the property was valued at $83 million (it’s now worth about $10 million) – walking through the Bon-Ton’s racks of clothing into the mall itself is probably a jarring experience.

The mall’s directories, once stocked with ads to entice shoppers to visit stores, are now mostly empty. Instead, they all now bear the same image of a smiling woman, shopping bags slung over her shoulder, asking passers-by if they’d like to advertise. The main trunk is pockmarked with shuttered stores, but an informal count shows the majority of the storefronts – more than filled versus less than 20 empty – still have tenants.

But the emptiness is gaining ground: Just last week, the mall lost longtime tenants Dunkin’ Donuts and Kay Jewelers, which moved across the street. Charlotte Russe also recently closed its doors, and Olympia Sports, another longtime tenant, is planning on closing its doors Feb. 24.

The food court, with just two storefronts, is where most of the action is. People hang out at the tables, taking advantage of the mall’s free internet, or munching on a slice of pizza from Basil Pizza & More.

Jane Sisti, who works part time at Terrasini Pastry Shop, said it’s common to see elderly and mother/baby groups taking laps around the mall, stopping periodically to do a workout routine. They, along with employees from surrounding stores, are some of the store’s most frequent customers.

Sisti wasn’t sure what the future holds for the mall, but she was skeptical of what would be available to Bon-Ton’s employees once the store closed. “I mean, there isn’t a whole lot of retail in the area – I looked,” she said. “This area can’t absorb that many employees.”

It’s hard to gauge how the remaining stores feel about the mall’s prospects – many employees were unable to comment, citing company policy.

But Isuf Hajdari, who has operated a few kiosks in the mall for almost four years and a year and change ago opened up Basil Pizza, is prepared to dig in. He likes the mall, he said, for its quiet rhythm and network of employees, and doesn’t rely on its foot traffic for business. Most of his customer base orders out, he said, and only stops by the mall for pickup.

“I’m gonna stay awhile,” he said, a foot resting on the edge of his ISmart Fix kiosk. “You gotta have faith that something’s going to happen here.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)