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A storied retail era in downtown Sioux City is coming to an end.

Younkers said Thursday it would close its downtown Sioux City department store in February, ending the chain's nearly 60-year run in the central business district.

Byron L. Bergren, president and CEO of Bon-Ton, the Pennsylvania-based owner of Younkers, said the company, after reviewing "the performance of all its assets," declined to renew the lease on the 60,000-square-foot store in Towne Square at 407 Fourth St. The lease expires March 1.

"We sincerely appreciate the loyalty and dedication of our associates and the support of our Sioux City community customers," Bergren said in a statement posted on the company's Web site. "We remain committed to our customers in this area and encourage them to visit our Sioux City Southern Hills Mall store."

The 50 employees at the downtown store will be invited to apply for positions at the Southern Hills location and other nearby stores, said Mary Kerr, a Bon-Ton spokeswoman. Severance packages also will be offered to the displaced workers, she said.

In addition to being the largest retailer downtown, Younkers is one of the last remaining tenants in Towne Square, a two-level, 85,000-square-foot commercial center that opened in 1986. The Younkers closing, which local leaders had feared for months, follows the loss of downtown's then-largest retailer, JCPenney, in August 2004.

"Downtown retail has declined from what it was in the heydays for a number of different reasons. This will certainly continue that trend," Roger Caudron, executive director of Downtown Partners, said Thursday following the announcement.

Caudron said his organization tried unsuccessfully for months to convince Younkers to renew its downtown lease. Local officials argued that the store was still profitable and offered advantages for shoppers such as easy access to the skywalk system and ample covered parking.

Though disappointed with Bon-Ton's decision, Caudron acknowledged Sioux City was fortunate to keep the downtown store as long as it did.

"If you look at it from a logical standpoint, it doesn't surprise you," he said. "This kind of retailer, having two different locations in a city of this size is an oddity."

The Sioux City store was the last downtown location for Younkers, which operates 47 stores in seven Midwest states, including Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. In 2005, then-owner Saks closed the downtown Des Moines Younkers store, which had opened in 1913.

Founded in Keokuk, Iowa, in 1856 by Polish immigrant brothers Lipman, Samuel and Marcus Younker, the department store chain was based for years in Des Moines.

Younkers arrived in downtown Sioux City in 1948 after purchasing the Davidson's department store, which traced its roots to 1884. After the sale, the store was known as Younkers-Davidson.

In 1957, Younkers purchased T.S. Martin -- another landmark department store in downtown Sioux City -- from the May Co. Martins was founded in Sioux City in 1880. For several years, separate Younkers-Davidson and Younkers-Martin stores operated within a block of each other.

Younkers-Martin was demolished in 1970 to clear the way for construction of the JCPenney store at Fourth and Nebraska streets. The Younkers-Davidson building, which was located at today's site of First Federal Bank, and just a half block south of the store's current location, was razed after the retailer moved to Towne Square in 1986.

The two-level mall-like structure, which includes 25,000 square feet for smaller shops, once was filled, but a number of tenants vacated their spaces in recent years.

Younkers' closing, coming on top of JCPenney's move to Southern Hills Mall in August 2004, likely will give area residents one less reason to shop downtown, which is still home to a Bomgaars store and some smaller retailers.

"Younkers is probably the only reason I come downtown and shop," Phyllis Burkhart of Lawton, Iowa, said in an interview after leaving the downtown store Thursday.

Caudron said it's unlikely another retailer would move into the Younkers space. A greater prospect, he said, would be to market it to a large employer looking for affordable office space and adjacent covered parking.

Calls to Kraus-Anderson, the Twin Cities-based owner of Towne Square, were not returned to the Journal as of late Thursday afternoon.

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Some downtown retailers said they don't expect the Younkers closing to affect their business.

"It's going to mean less traffic for that area, between us and Bomgaars, but I don't see it at this particular time as being that devastating for us because we're a different kind of store, we're a destination store," said Rusty Clark, the fifth-generation of his family to run Thorpe & Co. Jewellers. Founded in 1902, the jewelry store is at 501 Fourth St., just down the street from Younkers.

The downtown store closing could create added business for the Southern Hills Younkers, as well as a future growth opportunities. For years, there has been talk that Youngers would expand the mall store once the dowtown location closed.

Bon-Ton's spokeswoman Kerr said she could not comment on any future plans for the Southern Hills store.

There is no set date for closing the downtown store, except that it will be prior to March 1, Kerr said. The store will not have a going-out-of-business sale, and will transfer any remaining merchandise to the mall store, she said.

"| think what the customers will see is some great discounts, great sales going on regardless of the fact this store is closing," Kerr said.

Bon-Ton, which is publicly traded, acquired Younkers and its other Northern Department Store group stores from Saks in a $1.1 billion deal last year. Bon-Ton operates 275 department stores and eight furniture galleries in 23 states in the Northeast, Midwest and upper Great Plains under the Bon-Ton, Bergner's, Boston Store, Carson Pirie Scott, Elder-Beerman, Herberger's and Younkers nameplates and, under the Parisian nameplate, one store in each of Indianapolis and Dayton, Ohio and two stores in the Detroit area.

Journal online editor Thomas Ritchie contributed to this story.

Journal business editor Dave Dreeszen can be reached at (712) 293-4211 or davedreeszen@siouxcityjournal.com

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