Carson's at Mounds Mall

ANDERSON – Mounds Mall will lose its only remaining department store after Bon-Ton, parent company of Carson's, announced plans to close the store Wednesday.

The Anderson location is among five Indiana stores set to close as part of a previously released rationalization program. The closings will affect 42 stores nationwide under all of Bon-Ton’s nameplates, according to a company release.

A representative for Mounds Mall was unable to be reached for comment.

“As part of the comprehensive turnaround plan we announced in November, we are taking the next steps in our efforts to move forward with a more productive store footprint,” Bill Tracy, president and chief executive officer for The Bon-Ton Stores, said in the release. “We remain focused on executing our key initiatives to drive improved performance in an effort to strengthen our capital structure to support the business going forward.”

Bon-Ton has partnered with Hilco Merchant Resources to assist in liquidating and closing the stores.

Store closing sales are slated to begin Thursday and run for 10 to 12 weeks. Associates at the closed locations will be offered a chance to apply at remaining Bon-Ton locations.

Longtime Carson’s shopper Florence Heater said she’s sad to see the department store go.

“I don’t shop a lot, but when I do, I like to go to Carson’s,” Heater said. “I will definitely miss this place.”

With the last of the large department stores leaving, many residents are worried the end is near for Mounds Mall.

“When Carson’s goes it’s really going to hurt this mall,” Heater said. “People are really going to miss this, because the only other place to go is Kohl's, and that’s all the way across town.”

Several local nonprofit organizations and churches have benefited for several years from Carson's periodic Community Days sales promotions by selling $5 coupon books to shoppers.

Soroptimist International of Anderson is one of the groups regularly participating in that promotion, and club members have purchased the store's kitchen and bath items to help domestic violence victims set up homes with their children after leaving the Alternatives Inc. shelter.

Soroptimist President Barb Donnell, of Pendleton, expressed appreciation for the store's community partnership.

"I find it distressing on two fronts. If people need attire that is more upscale they now have to drive to another area or shop online. Even though Soroptimists did not make a ton of money, it was an easy fundraiser," Donnell said.

Wednesday’s announcements are in addition to five more recently announced closures, four of which were completed in January, and one which will complete its closing sale in February.

Other Indiana stores to close are Fair Oaks Mall, Columbus; Concord Mall, Elkhart; Circle Center Mall, Indianapolis; and Five Points Mall, Marion.

For Carson’s lovers, the closest store near Anderson will be at the Muncie Mall, which was not included in this round of closures.

Bon-Ton, which has headquarters in Wisconsin and York, Pennsylvania, has remained unprofitable for the past six years and missed a $14 million debt payment, according to SEC filings. The company has a debt of about $1.1 billion.

Carson’s is the last in a line of traditional retailers leaving the once-thriving enclosed mall. Mounds Mall is also behind on property taxes, most recently owing $434,584 when it failed to sell at a delinquent tax auction in October.

Rob Sparks, executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development in Madison County, said Bon-Ton’s financial woes are a single facet of a much larger retail shift: the impact of online retailers on brick-and-mortar stores.

“It’s only going to continue to evolve as they are looking at ways to do drone delivery of goods and expanding distribution points to bring product quicker,” Sparks said. “These (retail) jobs are going to translate into distribution or other types of jobs.”

He likened the current retail reality to the age when motor vehicles were first being introduced.

“I think of it like we are sitting here with horses, and we are talking about livery stables and horse shows and all of a sudden these cars start driving down the street,” Sparks said. “But eventually people start building cars instead of buggies; they don’t fit horseshoes anymore. ... We have a transformational period we are living in.”