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A new beginning for Boston Store — online only, at least for now

September 25, 2018

About two weeks after its stores closed their doors in Madison, Boston Store is back in business online.

And the new owner of the department store chain’s assets says it plans to open stores again in Wisconsin and several other states — though it’s not clear yet if Madison will be one of those locations.

CSC Generation Holdings has launched websites for Boston Store, Carson’s, Elder Beerman, and its sister retailers under the Bon-Ton umbrella, featuring merchandise ranging from clothing to household goods, much as they offered before.

“Over the last 120 years, Bon-Ton has touched the lives of tens of millions of Americans,” said Jordan Voloshin, co-president of CSC Generation. “We couldn’t be more excited by the opportunity to continue the company’s legacy.”

Boston Store closed its big stores at East Towne and West Towne malls on August 29, after winding down sales over the past several months. More than 200 employees lost their jobs in Madison; more than 2,200 were unemployed statewide.

The longtime department store, based in Milwaukee and York, Pennsylvania, agreed to liquidate in April after a bankruptcy filing in February failed to come up with a successful purchaser to keep open Bon-Ton’s 260 stores in 24 states.

CSC bought Bon-Ton’s websites, customer lists and trademarks for $900,000, and the company fired up its online stores last Friday.

“We’re back and we’re here to stay!” the websites exclaim.

They have drawn “great traffic,” said Fred Hulls, vice president of communications for The Bon-Ton Stores.

Hulls said CSC is considering opening stores in about half a dozen states, including Wisconsin — with up to two or three in the Milwaukee area. Nothing is certain yet about the possibility of reopening a Boston Store in the Madison area, he said.

“Until the leases are signed, we’re not confirming any location at this time,” Hulls said.

Stores will range in size from 10,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet, with the average store around 50,000 square feet, he said. Madison’s Boston Stores at East Towne and West Towne were each about 140,000 square feet.

CBL Properties, owner of East Towne and West Towne, is declining to comment at this point, West Towne Mall general manager Megan Ballard said. She said CBL does not own the Boston Store buildings at the malls.

Voloshin said the new Bon-Ton will be “tailored to the expectations of the modern customer,” with services ranging from personal styling to interior design and more flexible ways to pay, including “lease-to-own service.”

UW-Madison School of Business professor Neeraj Arora said Bon-Ton’s success will depend on three factors: “The nature of the merchandise, strong online presence, and price.”

“First, for certain items, buyers like to physically see the product before buying. The merchandise that Boston Store decides to carry will be a key driver for success. Second, buyers also expect retailers to have a reliable, hassle-free online presence. Strong online presence is a ‘must-have’ for Bon-Ton’s. Third, in a world where price comparison is a couple of clicks away, Bon-Ton’s will have to be competitive on that front as well,” said Arora, executive director of the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research.

“It’ll be incredibly difficult for Bon-Ton’s to get an A on all three factors but I admire the fact that CSC is trying to get that optimal combination right,” Arora said.

In the past year or so, CSC has purchased DirectBuy, a home furnishings membership club, and Killion, a men’s apparel company, and made them both profitable, Hulls said.

Voloshin said the company is “sprinting” to get ready for the holiday season. “We hope that our track record of revitalizing retailers reassures Bon-Ton customers that the company is in safe hands,” Voloshin said.

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