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Carson’s coming
Carson’s department store will have its grand opening at Glenbrook Square on Tuesday. Here’s a look at the mall’s anchor tenants:
Locations: 272 stores in 23 states
Workers: 27,100
2012 annual sales: $3 billion (represents parent company Bon-Ton Stores Inc. total sales)
Size of Glenbrook store: 121,958 square feet
Locations: 1,104 department stores in 49 states
Workers: 116,000
2012 annual sales: $12.9 billion
Size of Glenbrook store: 166,553 square feet
Locations: 840 (including Bloomingdale’s) in 45 states
Workers: 175,700
2012 annual sales: $27.7 billion
Size of Glenbrook store: 251,000 square feet
Locations: 791
Workers: 246,000 (including Kmart) in all 50 states
2012 annual sales: $39.8 billion
Size of Glenbrook store: 222,731 square feet
Source: The retailers and Allen County assessor’s records
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
LaToya Smith folds pairs of women’s dress slacks as she helps prepare the Carson’s store at Glenbrook Square on Wednesday for its grand opening in the spot formerly occupied by Marshall Fields.

Carson’s, others a boon to city’s Glenbrook area

Employees, residents gear up for store’s opening

Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Ashley Gonzales, left, and Amanda Allen prepare purses and handbags for display in the new Carson’s store at Glenbrook Square.
Earnest Robinson, left, and Donovan Eppinga wheel a shelving display unit into the Carson’s store.

A convoy of 23 semi-trucks of merchandise.

Enough lighting and bling for a Beyoncé concert.

And more than $1.6 million in renovations, according to the Allen County Building Department.

That’s just a sampling of what it took for Carson’s to fill the space formerly occupied by Marshall Field’s. The new Glenbrook Square shopping mall anchor tenant arrives at a time when retailers are turning their attention to Fort Wayne’s north side.

As Carson’s gets set to open Tuesday, Costco Wholesale Corp. is preparing to unveil a $16 million warehouse club at the northwest corner of Lima and Progress roads in October. That same month will see the arrival of a Burlington Coat Factory inside the Glenbrook Commons plaza at Lima Road and Coliseum Boulevard, where Steve & Barry’s once stood.

Last month, Glenbrook Commons welcomed Dunham’s Sports, which moved into the former Linens ’N Things that went out of business in 2008, about the same time as Steve & Barry’s.

Commercial real estate analyst Steve Zacher credits the retail resurgence to northeast Indiana’s only enclosed shopping center still having the clout to draw business – even after nearly 50 years of operation. More than 15 million people visit the mall annually, and it is second in size only to Castleton Square in Indianapolis.

“(Carson’s, Costco and others) could have gone southwest, but they didn’t,” said Zacher, president of The Zacher Co. “It’s just reflective of the retail drawing power of the north side and the dynamics of the Glenbrook region.”

Steve Byers is executive vice president of stores for Bon-Ton Inc., parent company of Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Younkers and others. To combat online retailers, some brick and mortar stores have downsized to save costs. Carson’s appears to be sidestepping that trend.

The bilevel store spans more than 120,000 square feet and is a throwback to when shopping centers were the first place families shopped. Byers said Bon-Ton’s part of the strategy for the Fort Wayne Carson’s store is based on an improving economy and the market’s size in relation to the rest of the state.

“Fort Wayne is the second largest city in the state and we saw this as an opportunity,” he said. “We have 14 stores in Indiana and had been looking at Fort Wayne. We looked at demographics and the health of the economy, as well as the level of competition. We think we can create something the bigger national retailers can’t.”

But it won’t be easy.

Since Marshall Field’s closed in 2005, Glenbrook Square hasn’t had a full slate of anchor tenants. The Great Recession had some in retail circles wondering if a replacement would ever come. For the past two years or so, Glenbrook officials generated some revenue by leasing a portion of the closed department store to GlowGolf amusement center.

John Wright, GlowGolf’s spokesman, said in an email that the company closed its Glenbrook Square location and has no plans to reopen in Fort Wayne.

General Growth Properties Inc., which owns Glenbrook, is no doubt pleased to land Carson’s. But the owner of Carson’s is having a battle on Wall Street.

Analysts say the stock has underperformed so far this year. Brady McArdle is a financial adviser and partner at Galecki Financial Management in Fort Wayne. He said Bon-Ton evidently has not met investors’ expectations.

Shares of the company in August were trading for half of what they were a year ago – $22. Comparable store sales for the second quarter decreased 6.4 percent. Total sales for the second quarter decreased 6.3 percent to $557.1 million, compared with $594.9 million for the prior year period.

In an August earnings call, Brendan Hoffman, president and CEO of Bon-Ton, blamed part of the trouble on external factors.

“We believe the adverse impact of inclement weather, higher gas prices and higher taxes, coupled with an unfavorable shift in consumer spending pattern, contributed to the overall sales weakness,” he said.

There are other concerns, retail consultant Jennifer Cherry said.

“There’s a bit of trepidation in (opening) a department store in this day and age,” said Cherry, senior vice president of Marx Lane Co., a marketing and public relations firm in Farmington Hills, Mich. “As people look for what’s hip, cool and new, they don’t automatically head out to a department store. There’s no such thing as one-stop shopping anymore because there are too many niche stores and other choices that consumers have.”

Still, a savvy department store can find a way to succeed, Cherry said. She believes shoppers will be impressed when Carson’s opens its doors Tuesday.

“They have a good variety of apparel and the higher-end handbags will certainly be an attraction,” she said. “Their stores are very bright, clean and easy to navigate through.”

As crews hustled for the store’s grand opening about two weeks ago, Carson’s Manager Michelle Irish Carson’s said the retailer will give shoppers an experience.

“We want it ready,” she said noting designer brands including Calvin Klein, Coach, Nautica and Ralph Lauren, will help drive traffic. “We’ll be giving gifts to the first 1,000 shoppers.”

Irish is no stranger to Bon-Ton. The Lansing, Mich., native has been with the company at various stores or 16 years.

“Everybody is excited and we’ve been getting people stopping by wondering if we were open yet,” Irish said. “When we do, it will be a beautiful shopping adventure.”