Sunday, July 21, 2019
Advertisement
Lyft - Driver
Home Furniture Shopper search for deals on company’s last day

Shopper search for deals on company’s last day

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Last SlideNext Slide

GREEN BAY – Shoppers flooded to Wisconsin’s remaining Shopko stores Sunday, looking for deals and reminiscing about what had once been a major retailer in their communities.

Fifty-seven years after pharmacist James Ruben and a group of investors opened a $1 million department store on Green Bay’s Military Avenue, the company’s 11 remaining Wisconsin stores opened the for the last time at 9 a.m. Sunday morning.

Under overcast skies, shoppers began forming lines outside the Fond du Lac store’s entrance more than a half an hour before opening, the only brightness coming from the yellow signs that read “last day.”

Customers came slow at first, taking carts and leaning against them while they counted down. As the clock edged closer to the final opening of the doors at 9 a.m., however, cars came in packs and lines stretched past both entrances in a scene that reminded shoppers of Black Friday. 

Buy Photo

Cars fill the parking lot at Fond du Lac’s Shopko a half an hour after opening for the final day of sales, June 23, 2019. (Photo: Sarah Razner/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Jodi Burant was on her way back to Stevens Point when she decided to stop at the Fond du Lac store and see what she could find. A lifetime Shopko shopper, Burant liked the chain because it reminded her of Walmart, prior to its change into a superstore. 

As she waited to get inside the store, a cart at the ready, she hoped to possibly jeans, Fourth of July decor, or if she was very lucky, a grill. 

“You just have to take the chance,” she said. 

RELATED: Shopko employees press for severance pay after bankruptcy plan approved 

RELATED: Shopko Optical sale done; email set up for info on new owners’ plan to relocate 80 stores

RELATED: Shopko timeline of notable events, from 1961-2019

When doors opened, more than 30 customers rushed through the doors. Almost immediately, Burant found the decorations she was seeking, while others pushed down aisles, picking up clothing, dishware, blankets and whatever was left of the Wisconsin department store. 

Many of the once full shelving and aisles were nearly bare, others were stocked with a mishmash of items. Yellow tape cordoned off some areas of the store, creating a maze-like feel. Only a few chairs, a desk and a coffee table remained in the furniture department. In some places, discarded items sat on the floor, while employees tried to clean and organize as best they could.

Ginger and Patrick Schommer, of Fond du Lac, came to the store for years to shop its variety of items, and brands that could not be found anywhere else, said Ginger Schommer. Throughout their time, they enjoyed the in-store experience. 

“There’s a lot of people who like to go to a store and look around, and not just online,” she said. 

Tammy Miller reiterated that sentiment, stating it was a place where she could come and actually try on items. Although not a frequent Shopko shopper, she came for the sales, as the prices, she believed, were too high from the start, she said. On Sunday, she continued to look for good deals but was taking her time doing so, picking up items and considering them as she went. 

“I’m not going to race for them,” she said as others rushed about. 

In the midst of the shopping frenzy, there was a feeling of sadness. Jerrae DeLap, of Fond du Lac, had gone to the store since it opened and in the 1980s. It was where she purchased clothing for her children. After her children were grown, she returned for its products and garden center and came to know employees by name. 

Standing beside some of the last racks of clothing, she said she was going to miss the store as it took another shopping option from the city that has already lost many in recent years. She now will turn to Target, or out-of-town and online shopping to fill the void. 

“I’m watching Fond du Lac lose these wonderful stores, and it’s making me very sad. It’s scary to find out all these stores are closing,” she said. 

Buy Photo

Shoppers at Fond du Lac’s Shopko race for deals on the store’s final day, June 23, 2019. (Photo: Sarah Razner/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

One of the employees who shoppers said goodbye to was Connie Burnet. An employee of Shopko for 20 years, Burnet described the closure as a “death in the family.”

“It feels like a bad dream you just can’t wake up from,” she said. “Today, it will all be over.”

One of the aspects she enjoyed most about the job was the people — both those she worked with and those who shopped there. During the last week, her frequent customers shopped in to say goodbye, although she hopes it’s not the end to see them again wherever she ends up.

She doesn’t know where she will work next, but she may go back to school to find a career in computers, she said.

In her sadness, she feels anger, as well, towards Sun Capital Partners, the company’s private equity owner. 

“They did a lot of damage for a lot of good working people,” she said. 

A long decline

The Ashwaubenon-based company succumbed after years of financial trouble. Strategies to turn the company around floundered even as its private equity owner, Sun Capital Partners, continued to collect dividends and consulting. 

Shopko found itself beset on all sides by competitors just as shopper expectations began to evolve. It proved unable to keep up. 

And so the company sought bankruptcy protection from creditors in Nebraska on Jan. 16, declaring it had less than $1 billion in assets and more than $1 billion in debt. 

There was originally hope, though: Shopko executives laid out a plan to close unprofitable stores, exit the pharmacy business and find a buyer to keep the retailer going. When no buyer emerged, Shopko announced in March it would close all stores, sell its optical business and wind-down, putting about 15,000 employees out of work. 

In Wausau, a frenzy amidst largely empty shelves

At the Wausau Shopko store on 18th Avenue, the empty shelves and dollar deals were a familiar sight for Kelly Dehnel. The morning of the store’s final day was her fifth time there this week hunting for bargains. 

The discounts have grown better since the retailer first started winding down, she said. On Sunday she filled her cart with a $10 dutch oven, $1 T-shirts and other clothing, rugs, bedding, sandals and more.

Dehnel, who owns a dairy farm off County K northwest of Wausau, said the $1 T-shirts will be great to throw on and wear around the farm.

She used to stop in at Shopko regularly, once every couple of weeks. Now that it’s closing, it’s “just another hole in Wausau,” she said. She called Shopko the best discount retail option on her side of town. After its closure, she’ll have to head to the stores near Rib Mountain instead.

When Shopko empties out its shelves for good and the store goes dark, Dehnel hopes to see a similar retailer take over the space. 

Melissa Eades suspects that she’ll be spending more time shopping in Rib Mountain now, too, at Walmart or Kohl’s. Much like the other shoppers scattered around the emptying aisles on Sunday, Eades will miss Shopko’s presence in Wausau.

Unlike Dehnel, Eades hadn’t been to any of the sales at Shopko since the retailer announced it would be winding down. So she knew she had to be there on the final day.

“I’m surprised by the sheer chaos,” she said, as her daughter ran around with a new hair bow to take home.

That chaos remained mostly in the front section of the store where clothing and some shoes were displayed. Employees worked to contain everything and push merchandise to the front as they stacked leftover chocolate bunnies and ceramic mugs.

As some shoppers explored the back of the store, the frenzy was replaced by barren shelves amid pink flyers advertising 90% off. Roaming the aisles they passed entire deserted sections: home decor, sporting goods, luggage, school and office, pet supplies. 

Back in the fevered clothing sections, the brown-red carpet was littered with the leftovers of shoppers on the trail of a good bargain. Hangers, sale tags, flakes of trash and even some orange slime speckled the ground.

Checkout lines wound around the dollar sections where people continued to browse, hearing whispers from others who had already been in line for an hour and a half.

Dehnel sighed at the thought of another retailer closing its doors in Wausau.

Oshkosh employees say good bye to the store

Eric Rathsack worked at 7 different Shopko locations over 32 years. He worked his way up to manager of the Oshkosh store. On Sunday he was running around the store trying to help customers and staff through crowds of people.

“I’m just overall sad,” Rathsack said about the store closing. “I going to miss the customers. I’m going to miss the teammates.” 

Only the front third of the store had merchandise on the shelves. They were sporadically stocked with with $5 lawn decorations and mugs. Empty aisles were marked off with caution tape. People strolled through the aisles looking for a hidden deal that hadn’t been taken yet.

Trucks and trailers lined the front of the store as people carried out actual shelves. 

Two weeks ago the store had been completely stocked with merchandise, Rathsack said. The liquidation process was hectic as people came to get the best deals, he said.

Rathsack expects that everything in the store will be gone by the end of the day.

While Shopko closed to the public at 6 p.m. Sunday, Rathsack will work through Tuesday cleaning the building. He’ll also have to build a wall around the Shopko Optical, which will stay open at 1300 S. Koeller St. for six weeks before it moves to 1210 S. Koeller St., he said.  

Shopko employee Micah Kopecky  said the past two weeks have been surreal.

Kopecky, 18, came to Shopko throughout his entire life with his family, and he didn’t see any changes until customers started buying everything during the liquidation sale. He’s sad to see the store close, but he’s looking to the future as he plans to head to college in Minnesota this fall.

Kopecky plans to volunteer his time cleaning up the store with Rathsack. The company won’t pay more than two employees in addition to Rathsack to clean the store, but he knows it will be a lot of work.

Gail Nooyen, a loyal Shopko customer, did one last walk through the store Sunday.

“I love this store. It’s my store,” Nooyen said.

Before she was a customer, Nooyen was a Shopko employee for 18 years. She was hired when the Oshkosh location opened in 1984.

She was chatting with employees as she shopped for mugs. Nooyen loves the employees and is sad to see the store close. She won’t shop at Target or Walmart since Shopko was her place.

As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. However, in this case that saying is literal as Shopko prepares to shut down forever, a Home Goods store opened just a few stores down that was just as packed as Shopko.

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Last SlideNext Slide

Appleton store led company in sales

In Appleton, bargain hunters streamed in and out of the Shopko store on Northland Avenue all day Sunday, in what employees said felt a lot like Black Friday.

But by early afternoon Sunday, shoppers found little left to buy.

Two-thirds of the store was empty and taped off with yellow caution tape. Shelves were bare.

Random items were consolidated at the front of the store — 15 cent plastic Easter pails, eggs and grass; size 5XL floral shorts; $2.49 satchel handbags; makeup in dark colors like java and mocha, Fourth of July placemats and 2019 calendars for 40 cents.

Someone must have wanted the rack of Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb jerseys because they were gone, perhaps proving that if it’s cheap enough and has a Packers connection, it will sell.  

Kids clothes were gone, as were the bedspreads, smiley face beach towels and lamps, which were there just a week ago.

Shopper Jim Winsted of Appleton came in Sunday for a lamp for his daughter. “I should have bought it when I saw it a week ago,” he said. “They really did sell everything. It’s pretty cleared out.”

Appleton’s Shopko was the last branch standing in the Fox Cities, closing after sister branches in Kimberly, Neenah and Menasha were already gone.

Many regulars came in one last time even if they didn’t see anything to buy.  They word each used to express the day was “sad.”

“I had to say my goodbyes,” said longtime shopper Jean Harper from Appleton who knew employees by name.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about this store closing. It’s not a surprise with everyone going to the net. I’m not a net shopper, so I don’t know where I’m going to go,” she said. “I bought everything here. Prescriptions, purses, clothes, household items. Things for my grandkids. I have to find another store, but I’m not happy with Meijer and I’m not happy with Walmart.”

Appleton’s Shopko was the 15thbuilt in the chain and operated for just a few years shy of half a century.

“We were No. 1 in total volume when you combine optical, pharmacy and the main store,” said store manager Mark Grasmick.

Those who were working said they were there because they wanted to stay to the end.

Many had other jobs lined up, and some had even been recruited by other companies right at the registers. 

“I still have my core group,” said Grasmick. “Everyone put their hearts and souls into what they do. There’s a lot of pride that kept them here to the end. “

Employee Pam Bartell, who wore a shirt that read “Shopko Strong until the very end,” helped close Menasha, then Kimberly and now Appleton. Her eyes grew red and teary when talking about her employer for 40 years.

“I feel there’s nothing I can do to be able to keep the store open,” she said. “It’s like a death. You have to mourn it, when you lose a job you absolutely love.”

“I did my crying when the pharmacy ended,” said pharmacy employee Kelly Voss, who came back to help close the main store. “They said ‘can you help?’ and I said, ‘Sure. It’s my family.’”

Employees planned to gather for a group picture after the store closed late Sunday afternoon.

Wisconsin Rapids: ‘Shopko is not a building, it’s the people.’

Dozens of people walked the carpeted and tiled floor of Shopko at noon Sunday in Wisconsin Rapids. They shopped quietly as the sound of cart and clothing rack wheels filled the silence. Soft music echoed in the back of the store behind caution tape that noted there was nothing left for customers beyond its barrier. A lone vacuum hummed in the back, and the self-check-outs’ computerized voices reminded the last-day customers to take their bags and receipts before they left. A certain finality hovered in the air.

Buy Photo

Shopko employees ring up some final purchases June 23 at Shopko in Wisconsin Rapids. (Photo: Caitlin Shuda/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Manager Curt Brozik said he did everything he could to ease the sadness and boost the morale of his employees. They took a group photo in front of the store Sunday morning, reiterating and memorializing the family feel that has been cultivated over the decades within the employees.

“Shopko is not a building, it’s the people,” Brozik said. “Shopko will never die as long as these people are around. We will always be family.”

Brozik said he tried to make a bad situation as tolerable as possible for that family for the last few months. They’ve worked with other businesses in the area to try to find jobs for Shopko employees once the store closed. Many of those businesses were willing to hold off on training their new employees until after the Shopko closure was final.

As shoppers strolled along the store looking at the remains of inventory, some commented on the sadness and finality of the day. One shopper told a USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporter he and his wife were thinking of moving because of the various store closures, including Shopko.

Ramiro Ysquierdo, 60, said he was sad to see Shopko close in Wisconsin Rapids.

“It’s one less place I have to compare prices at,” Ysquierdo said. “I’m sad to see it go. It’s a nice store, and I’m a long-time shopper.”

He said he’ll be restricted to shopping at Walmart for what he needs, now.

While the store closure will leave many people like Ysquierdo with limited shopping options, there’s also the matter of filling an empty building.

Brozik said Shopko’s optical department will remain open in the Shopko building at 1100 E. Riverview Expressway until the new owners find a place to continue operating the business. 

Mellissa Shilts, 28, said that was her biggest worry. She said she and her family travel a lot to shop, so the store’s closure wouldn’t affect her a lot, but she wants to see something happen quickly with the building.

“It’s crazy it’s gone,” Shilts said, and hopes the building will be filled again soon.

Green Bay loses two stores

Melissa Salm just wanted to do something nice for the employees at her neighborhood Shopko. She made her fourth visit of the weekend to the East Town Mall Sunday afternoon not to shop, but to deliver cookies, bottled water and McDonald’s gift cards for the employees. 

“They’ve been working their butts (Saturday and Sunday),” Salm said. “It’s really sad. it’s the end of an era.”

Vicky, the East Town Shopko store manager who asked her last name not be used, accepted the gifts and gave Salm a big hug and thank you. She teared up as she talked about the dedication the store employees showed to stay around until the last day. She also said the community has shown great support for the staff.  

“They wanted to work open to close. It’s a remarkable, remarkable staff here,” the store manager said. “We’re like family here. The community has been unbelievable, too.”

The East Town store was busy Sunday afternoon as fixtures sold for $1 each and the last boxes of cosmetics, seasonal holiday merchandise, Green Bay Packers t-shirts and Shopko store office supplies went up for sale. Even rolls of red and yellow “clearance” stickers could be bought for 90 percent off. 

Kelly Trickey, of Green Bay, and her daughter, Ali, who attends the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, both said they’re sad to see their Shopko stores close. Ali Trickey said Shopko was the only general merchandise store in River Falls because of square footage restrictions in that community. 

“You have to drive eight miles to get to Walmart or Target in Hudson,” Ali Trickey said. “We just gained a Culver’s, so we’re gaining in food, but not gaining anything else.” 

Kelly recalled shopping in the original east side Shopko—the building’s now home to a fitness center on Main Street. 

“It’s sad to see these go by the wayside,” Kelly Trickey said. “If all these people were shopping at Shopko all along, it’d still be here.”

The Green Bay area lost stores in De Pere, Howard, Bellevue and Green Bay in the last few months. The region’s last two stores, at Bay Park Square and East Town Mall, closed Sunday. 

The Bay Park Square location didn’t even make it to closing time Sunday. Sheldon Svenson, of Pulaski, was its last customer. Svenson bought the remaining inventory—bags of Easter basket grass, Easter eggs, electronics, some clothes and store fixtures. 

Svenson arranged with Gordon Brothers, Shopko’s store liquidator, to buyeverything left in the store, leaving it empty before 3 p.m. Sunday. Shoppers still showed up, only to be turned away. Svenson was there all day. He said it was a tough day to watch, but that the opportunity to pick up the inventory has him excited. 

“I’m pretty excited,” Svenson said. “It opens up an opportunity for me to sell stuff and help them get the store closed. The employees stayed enthusiastic all day and did well with the customers.”

Svenson intends to inventory his haul from Shopko and launch an online store. 

“They did a very good job selling most of the inventory,” Svenson said. “A lot of the employees were probably sad to see it go. A lot would have liked to stay rather than have to find new jobs.”

Bankruptcy case continues

Sunday was Shopko’s last day in business, but there are still some significant issues left to watch as the bankruptcy case continues in federal court in Nebraska.

USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporters Jeff Bollier, Sarah Razner, Caitlin Shuda, Lydia Slattery, Megan Stringer and Maureen Wallenfang contributed to this report. 

Read or Share this story: https://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/story/money/2019/06/23/shopko-bankruptcy-shopper-search-deals-companys-last-day/1352370001/

Source