Photo by Joe Boyle
The parking lot for Carson’s in Evergreen Park was full Friday afternoon as customers shop for discounted items after it was announced the store will close this summer.
Two local mayors are having to come to terms with the fact that Carson’s, the onetime iconic retail giant, will be closing by the end of the summer.
Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton knew that the parent company, Bon-Ton Stores, filed for bankruptcy protection in February. However, he believed that because the new Carson’s at 9700 S. Western Ave. was making money that a deal could be arranged to keep that store open.
“Yes, they have informed me that they were closing,” Sexton said after getting the word officially last week. “The owners (Lormax Stern Development Company) thought they could stay open despite the bankruptcy because they have been a profitable store. But the judge ruled no.”
A bankruptcy judge on April 18 approved the sale of Bon-Ton’s assets, which includes Carson’s, to two liquidation firms after the retailer could not find someone to keep the department store open.
But Sexton is confident that while Carson’s departure is a crucial blow to the development of the new outdoor Plaza, he is confident that another store will take its place.
“With that said, I have talked to the owners at Lormax and they have told me that they have several offers to take their place,” Sexton said. “Our Carson’s had done very well. But this is more of a corporate thing.”
However, Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said he was stunned after hearing Carson’s was closing, an anchor store at the Chicago Ridge Mall for years.
“It is unbelievable,” Tokar said Friday after receiving the news. “It doesn’t make sense. I was talking to the owners a while ago and they were telling me that they had a great Christmas. They were very happy and confident. That’s why this is so unbelievable. There is nothing we can do about it.”
At this early stage, Tokar said that he has no idea who can fill the large department store that provided an anchor at the south end of the mall. Sears is located at the north end of the mall,
“I thought, to tell you the truth, that Sears would be the store to close with all their problems,” Tokar said. “But they are still here. I never thought it would be Carson’s that was closing.”
While Sexton is confident that another retailer can replace Carson’s, he said its departure will be a sad occasion.
“Carson’s is a well-known store,” Sexton said. “A lot of women I know have told me how much they liked to shop there. From that aspect, it will be really missed.”
Carson’s history in the Chicago area market dates back 164 years. Carson’s became a fixture at the old Plaza back in 1964. When the last remaining stores of the old Plaza were demolished over two years ago, a new state-of-the art Carson’s was built. The new Carson’s was the first store to open in September 2016 as the anchor for the new outdoor development of the new Plaza.
The new Carson’s, which is 120,470 square feet, drew a large crowd for its grand opening and its presence enticed other retailers to become part of the development.
The parking lot was full as customers arrived at the Carson’s in Evergreen Park Friday afternoon to look for deals and essentially pay their last respects. Most of the people who visited Carson’s mentioned they were frequent customers. But on this day, signs indicating that the store is closing greeted customers.
“All the stores I grew up with are going out of business,” said Ann Woulfe, a resident of Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood, who was carrying a couple bags of items as she approached her car. “It’s a shame. All you are going to have left is these discount stores. I used to like shopping here because it had nice items.
“And another thing I don’t like is that these people who work there are going to lose their jobs,” Woulfe added.
The increase in online shopping has had a major effect on brick-and-mortar stores across the country that has made malls more vulnerable than ever before. The presence of Amazon and other online companies have had a negative impact on retailers, critics claim.
“I think we better wake up,” Sexton said. “People should not just shop online exclusively because this is what is happening. I think people have to start realizing that. This is putting people out of work and that means a loss of jobs overall. And when people are of work, they don’t shop as much. We don’t want to see businesses close up.”
Sexton said Carson’s will remain open through August. However, shoppers who left Carson’s at Chicago Ridge Mall indicated that the store will close at the end of June. Tokar is hoping that a Supreme Court decision will be forthcoming in South Dakota that will result in online companies having to pay a sales tax, which they are currently not required to do.
“Unless the Supreme Court does something, I’m just not sure what we will do,” Tokar said. “We have our fingers crossed. This is a huge hit on brick-and-mortar stores. Something has to be done. All these online companies, and not just Amazon, don’t pay sales taxes where brick-and-mortar stores do. It just isn’t fair.”
Tokar said he will continue to talk to Chicago Ridge Mall management to come up with ideas. The Chicago Ridge mayor said it will be difficult to replace Carson’s, which takes up two floors and is 150,000 square feet.
Irene Gajecky, of Palos Heights, purchased some items from the Carson’s in Chicago Ridge on Friday afternoon.
“I like the store here because it was convenient,” Gajecky said. “Yeah, I’m going to miss it. It was an upscale store. I guess everyone can just go to Amazon. Maybe these department stores should just join together.
“But what can you do,” Gajecky added. “It’s the changing America.”