The Carson’s department store in Columbus is closing, another blow for FairOaks Mall, which has seen Kmart and JCPenney’s anchor stores leave in recent years as brick-and-mortar retailers have struggled across the nation.

The Columbus Carson’s is among 47 locations that will be closed by the Bon-Ton chain in early 2018, said Bill Tracy, president and chief executive officer for The Bon-Ton Stores.

Store-closing sales are scheduled to begin today and run for 10 to 12 weeks, the company said.

The 38 associates employed at the Columbus Carson’s store will have opportunities to be considered for jobs at Bon-Ton stores that remain, the company said.

The closing of Carson’s follows a national trend affecting malls across the country, said Mark Pratt, president of Breeden Inc., Columbus, and a Century 21 Breeden Realtors specialist in commercial real estate.

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“It’s a sign of the times,” Pratt said. “What’s happening all over the country is happening in our own hometown.”

He pointed to last week’s announcement of Toys “R” Us closing stores, saying it seems as though every week, many of the mainstay stores many people grew up with are disappearing.

Edinburgh Outlet Mall has had an impact on FairOaks Mall, although the outlet mall primarily draws a regional customer base off I-65, Pratt said.

“When you go to the outlet mall, there are license plates from every state — and there are cars there from Bartholomew County,” he said.

When Carson’s closes, FairOaks Mall will have 23 remaining businesses.

Asked how that bodes for the future of the 27-year-old mall, general manager Kim Showalter replied, “The owners haven’t given up on us.”

City’s efforts to help

The city recently approved a new entrance to FairOaks Mall off of Hawcreek Avenue, approving curb cuts that mall officials said were requested by a potential tenant to take the place of JCPenney, which closed July 31 of last year.

City officials have been working with mall officials about the new entrance and had met with management within the past month, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said.

During those visits, city officials were told that mall owners intended to “stay the course,” Lienhoop said.

“It’s an important piece for retail in Columbus,” the mayor said of the mall. “You have to really worry about this spiraling in the wrong direction.”

Pratt said he would be surprised if FairOaks would be able in today’s retail climate to attract two anchors, with fewer retailers doing any expansions.

Opening in 1990, the 50,000-square-foot Columbus Carson’s operated as Elder-Beerman at FairOaks until changing its name six years ago.

The store has served as an anchor for the mall, which has seen a string of businesses leave and a few others arrive.

After Kmart closed in April 2014, Dunham’s Sports came in to occupy the 86,500-square-feet of space on the mall’s east side.

“When Penney’s went out, the remaining anchors (Dunham’s and Carson’s) were isolated on the ends,” Pratt said.

With that set-up, there was no reason for customers to explore further into the mall, he said.

Smaller stores that have left in the past year include Kirlin’s Hallmark, J. Nicole clothing, Hibbett Sports and Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio.

“The smaller stores (in a mall) can’t survive without the foot traffic,” Pratt said.

However, Showalter said a number of small retailers and restaurants in her mall that have carved out their own niche.

“Just because they shop at Carson’s doesn’t mean they’ll eat at Mark Pi’s Restaurant — or vice versa,” Showalter said.

Shopper reaction

“There isn’t anything to come here for, except for Carson’s or Mark Pi’s,” mall customer Eleanor Whittington of Columbus said.

Although she said she had relied on Carson’s for many shopping needs, Whittington said she will likely go to the Macy’s store in Indianapolis.

While North Vernon resident Leona Wilson said doesn’t mind driving to Columbus, the upcoming closing may force her to drive to the Greenwood Park Mall, she said.

“I have to go somewhere where I can find clothes that will fit me within my price range,” Wilson said. “But since I live in Jennings County, Greenwood is a pretty far drive for me.”

Columbus not alone

Communities across the United States are pondering what to do as anchor stores disappear from long-time malls and further erode the retail climate.

Cindy Frey, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, described news of Carson’s closing as “a sad day for Columbus.”

Noting that losing anchor stores Penney’s and Kmart were also difficult, Frey said losing other stores in Columbus such as Sears and Radio Shack show the “perfect storm” that retail is weathering right now.

“You have retail spending moving online and even more than that, moving to mobile,” Frey said.

About 20 percent of consumer purchases are now made by phone, as stores have developed their own apps to make the process easier for all types of purchases — not just clothing and housewares, but bedding and eyeglasses and more, she said.

“There was a time when people weren’t comfortable putting their credit card number on an app or a website, but now they feel comfortable with it,” she said.

Frey said her research shows that at the height of the recession, shopping behaviors changed.

Customers also began scouting for bargains online, and also started changing what they were spending their money on, she said.

People seem to not be spending as much money on clothing, but they are going out to brew pubs and taking international trips, she said.

Other uses?

Traffic has been slow in Carson’s for awhile, Frey said.

“There probably is an opportunity there to think about a better use,” she said.

The close proximity of the property to parks facilities, with Hamilton Community Center & Ice Arena and Lincoln Park just across the street, could offer up some possibilities, she said.

Pratt’s company has shown FairOaks Mall space to potential tenants who are interested in office space, but that isn’t an ideal solution for the mall, Pratt said.

“When you start mixing office space with retail, it doesn’t generate the foot traffic for the stores. People are there from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then they go home.”

Indiana Carson's footprint

Bon-Ton Stores Inc., the parent of retailer Carson’s, announced Wednesday that five Indiana Carson’s stores will close:

  • FairOaks Mall, 2104 25th St., Columbus.
  • Mounds Mall, 2101 State Road 109, Anderson,
  • Concord Mall, 3701 S. Main St., Elkhart
  • Circle Center Mall, One W. Washington St., Indianapolis,
  • Five Points Mall, 1129 N. Baldwin, Marion

Remaining Bon-Ton stores in Indiana (Carson’s, except as noted) after the above stores close:

  • Glenbrook Square, 4201 Coldwater Road, Fort Wayne.
  • 6600 Indianapolis Blvd., Hammond.
  • 3875 Newton St., Jasper.
  • Markland Mall, 1540 East Blvd., Kokomo.
  • Southlake Mall, 1995 Southlake Mall, Merrillville.
  • Marquette Mall, 305 W. U.S. 20, Michigan City.
  • Muncie Mall, 3501 N. Granville Ave., Muncie.
  • Honey Creek Mall, 3401 S. U.S. Highway 41, Terre Haute,
  • Marketplace of Warsaw, 2856 Frontage Road, Warsaw.
  • Elder-Beerman, 601 Promenade, Richmond.

About FairOaks Mall

Location: 34 acres between 25th Street and National Road.

Square footage: The mall is located in 415,000 square feet along two major retail corridors.

Number of stores: 24

History:

  • FairOaks Mall opened in 1990 on the former county fairgrounds site.
  • Fair Oaks Mall Acquisition bought the mall in June 2003 for an undisclosed sum from Southfield, Mich.-based Schostak Brothers & Co., which had owned the mall since its beginning. The area has several large oak trees on the property, which is how it was named.
  • The property was sold in 2003 to New Jersey-based Fair Oaks Mall Acquisition LLC, and went into foreclosure in 2013.
  • A New York City real estate investor stepped in to acquire FairOaks Mall for a fraction of what the previous owner owed on a past-due mortgage, real estate records show. The acquisition took place nine months after a court-ordered foreclosure was issued against the Columbus mall’s previous owner, Fair Oaks Mall Acquisition LLC. An entity known as Columbus Noteholder LLC bought the mortgage in 2013 and took over rights to collect rent from existing leases. The investment group is associated with GJ Realty, a company with offices on West 37th Street in Manhattan.

Non-retail tenants:

  • Cummins, the Columbus-based engine manufacturer, leases 25,000 square feet of office space in a former Goody’s clothing store in the mall’s northern wing.
  • The Harlequin Theatre, a community-based theater, is also located in the mall offering live stage productions, musical performances and shows.

About The Bon-Ton Stores

The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc., with corporate headquarters in York, Pennsylvania, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, operates 260 stores, which includes nine furniture galleries and four clearance centers, in 24 states in the Northeast, Midwest and upper Great Plains under the Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers nameplates. The stores offer a broad assortment of national and private brand fashion apparel and accessories for women, men and children, as well as cosmetics and home furnishings. For more information, visit http://investors.bonton.com.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.