Bankruptcy sale marks end of Carson's

Carson's, a one-time Chicago retail institution that faces the same struggles as other iconic stores over the past decades, will close its remaining stores as a result of Wednesday's bankruptcy sale of its parent company to a pair of liquidation firms.

A federal bankruptcy court approved the sale of Carson's parent company, Milwaukee-based Bon Ton Stores, Inc., to Great American Group and Tiger Capital Group.

In a letter sent to employees Monday, Bon Ton CEO Bill Tracy said the company would close all of its stores in 10 to 12 weeks and the process would begin shortly after the sale, according to a report in BizTimes Milwaukee Business News.

Bon-Ton operated 260 stores in 24 states, largely in the Northeast and Midwest, when it filed for bankruptcy in January. In addition to Carson's, the company owned the Bon-Ton, Bergner's, Boston Store and Elder-Beerman nameplates.

Carson's has 30 stores in Illinois, of which 26 are in the Chicago area. Most of the suburban stores are in shopping malls, including Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills, Randhurst Village in Mount Prospect, Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale, Yorktown Center in Lombard and Fox Valley Mall in Aurora.

A handful of stores in the area closed earlier this year, including Carson's at Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg, clearance centers in Morton Grove and Aurora as well as Carson's in Danville and DeKalb, at Riverside Plaza in Chicago and a Bergner's store in Peoria.

Although the firms did not elaborate on store closings after the sale was approved, Tracy hinted the ultimate in a statement Tuesday when he announced the winning bid.

“While we are disappointed by this outcome and tried very hard to identify bidders interested in operating the business as a going concern, we are committed to working constructively with the winning bidder to ensure an orderly wind-down of operations that minimizes the impact of this development on our associates, customers, vendors and the communities we serve,” Tracy said.

The sale and closings will quietly mark the end of a company started in 1854 in Amboy, Illinois, by Samuel Carson and John T. Pirie. The company relocated to Chicago in the late 1860s, where it grew into Carson Pirie Scott & Co. department store with the help of partner Robert Scott, who joined the duo in 1890, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Carson's was a major presence on Chicago's State Street for much of the 20th century, alongside other retail giants like Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Marshall Field & Co. At its peak, Carson's employed 8,000 people and did around $150 million in annual sales.

Over the past 30 years, the company underwent a number of ownership changes. In 1989, Carson's was sold to Milwaukee-based P.A. Bergner and Co., but returned to an independent company following Bergner's bankruptcy in 1991. It was acquired again in 1998 by Proffitt's, Inc., which owned the Saks department store chain. than later bought by Bon-Ton in 2006.

• Associated Press contributed to this report.

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  A sign in front of the Carson's store in the Spring Hill Mall announces hiring, but the chain's bankruptcy sale to liquidators signals its stores will close. John Starks/
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