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The cost of convenience: Saying goodbye to Younkers, Herberger’s

Younkers at the Miller Hill Mall is expected to close sometime later this year. Bob King /

It's easy to buy a new outfit online. It's often cheaper, too.

Convenience has consequences.

Later this year, 134 people will lose their jobs when Younkers closes at the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth. Bankrupt parent company Bon-Ton Stores is facing liquidation after no buyer came forward to save the retail chain.

"We are disappointed by this outcome," CEO Bill Tracy said in a statement.

Many customers were disappointed to learn they will lose a longtime shopping destination. Count Wendy Heavirland among them.

"This is my favorite store," said the Floodwood woman, who has been shopping at the Younkers location since it was Glass Block. "It's full of things that I like."

Not long after Heavirland walked through the store's prominent gateway, mall security asked the News Tribune to seek the mall's permission to talk to any more people to record their thoughts and feelings on the loss of Younkers.

Miller Hill Mall didn't respond to such requests; neither did its corporate owner, Simon Property Group.

Younkers employees were told by Bon-Ton to keep their mouths shut, and the company offered no comment beyond a press release.

Virginia's Thunderbird Mall, in the midst of a major remodeling project, will now lose its Herberger's store.

"It's sad. It's the loss of an opportunity that people have in this community," Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe told WDIO-TV. "Herberger's really is the last store in the city of Virginia that provides a variety of merchandise, men's and women's clothing, and all kinds of different appliances."

The Younkers store at Mariner Mall in Superior was already slated for closure, a decision announced earlier this year.

The new retail landscape is a quiet one. Indeed, a stillness permeated the mall Wednesday morning.

Not that long ago, when malls were being built rather than dismantled, they were touted as the civic centers of the suburban future. They would take the place of depopulated downtowns and offer a gathering place as well as a commercial hub, with all the parking you could ever need.

That convenience has been replaced by the comforts of home, thanks to Amazon and other online retailers. Even though census data says only 9 percent of all retail sales took place online last year, that has been enough to upend billion-dollar companies and put a stop to decades of brick-and-mortar dominance.

"We are incredibly grateful to all of our associates for their dedicated service to Bon-Ton and to our millions of loyal customers who we have had the pleasure to serve as their hometown store for more than 160 years," Tracy's statement said.

Though Miller Hill Mall has a big stake in replacing one of its flagship retailers, it will ultimately be up to Bon-Ton or its next owner — the company owns the Younkers property.

Taxpayers would benefit from seeing the store replaced quickly. Younkers owes $186,100 on its property tax bill this year. That money will have to come from somewhere else when the retailer moves out.

Bon-Ton, with 250 stores across 23 states, filed for bankruptcy protection in February carrying nearly $1 billion in debt. A letter to the state of Minnesota said layoffs could start in June. As for customers, the company said: "Bon-Ton expects to provide more details about the liquidation plans and going out of business sales at its stores following approval of the winning bid by the bankruptcy court."

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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