Herberger's employees rushed throughout the Southtown store in Bloomington Friday morning, putting signs on each rack and counter indicating discounts of 10, 20 or 30 percent.
It was the first day of the liquidation sale after the announcement by Bon-Ton Inc. earlier this week that all of its department stores — Herberger's, Younkers, Elder-Beerman, Bergner's, Boston Store and Carson's — will be closing.
Most have histories that stretch back decades in the Midwest. Younkers started in Keokuk, Iowa; Carson's in Peru, Ill.; Elder-Beerman in Dayton, Ohio; and Herberger's in Osakis, Minn.
"It's like losing my right arm," Zona Sannes said as she walked into the Herberger's at Southdale Center in Edina. "It was one of the few places that sold clothes that don't make you look like a Kardashian."
Bon-Ton, the Milwaukee-based parent company, was forced to liquidate after it failed to find a buyer who wanted to keep the 200 stores open. Twenty stores in Minnesota will close, many in smaller towns where the closing of a department store strikes a blow to their retailing options.
"This is a huge hit for communities like Alexandria," said Jean Fashant of Eden Prairie, who is originally from Alexandria and was shopping at Herberger's Southtown Friday. "I grew up on Herberger's and have shopped there all my life. It's very sad."
The closing of retailers large and small is a reminder of consumers' changing habits. Amazon announced this week that more than 100 million of its customers are Prime members, which includes free two-day shipping. Even customers who buy from a retailer's website are spending less time in bricks and mortar, making it difficult to keep those stores open.
On Friday morning at the entrance to Herberger's Southtown store, signs for the previous "Customer appreciation sale" were still tacked on the doors. At Southdale, the Herberger's store had already put up "Store closing" and "Everything must go" signage."
Most items are discounted 10 percent or 20 percent with apparel on clearance racks getting an additional 30 percent off. "That's not much of a liquidation," said Susan Nielsen of Minneapolis as she shopped Herberger's Southtown.
"I thought they were really trying to get rid of things. I guess that'll be next week," her husband, Dennis Nielsen, said.
When Macy's started the closing sale for its downtown Minneapolis location in January last year, everything was 20 to 40 percent off initially. Bigger discounts followed later. But merchandise in some departments, such as cosmetics space leased to suppliers, wasn't put on discount.
In Herberger's on Friday, signs indicated that nothing is held back. Cosmetics, for example, are marked down 10 percent. Coupons are no longer accepted, however, and store credit cards will soon be canceled.
Kathy Blonigan of Prior Lake was surprised that she was allowed to return an item purchased earlier in the week. She didn't buy anything on Friday. "I'll be watching for greater discounts," she said.
Bon-Ton has Herberger's metro stores in Blaine, Bloomington, Edina, Roseville, St. Paul and Stillwater. Several of the Twin Cities stores replaced Mervyn's locations in 2008. Greater Minnesota has Herberger's or Younkers stores in Albert Lea, Alexandria, Baxter, Bemidji, Fergus Falls, Mankato, Moorhead, New Ulm, Rochester, St. Cloud and Willmar.
Herberger's was founded by brothers George and Frank Herberger in Osakis, Minn., in 1889. It grew to 11 stores by 1972. Proffitt's Inc., which later became Saks Inc., acquired it in 1997. In 2005, Saks sold it to Bon-Ton.
The going-out-of-business sales, being run by liquidators Great American Group and Tiger Capital Group, are expected to last until the end of June.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633