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The end of an era for York County retail icon The Bon-Ton

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — York County’s retailer The Bon-Ton met its fate in bankruptcy court Wednesday morning.

The company announced its plans to liquidate its assets, which will put the 160-year-old department store chain out of business, and hundreds out of work.

It’s the end of an era for the homegrown retailer but it might not be the end for those needing to look for a new job.

A winning bid in an auction to sell off every last piece of York’s hometown store, The Bon-Ton, is a loss to many in the community.

Bon-Ton shopper Barbara Boyer said “I was hoping that they would find a buyer, and they were able to stay here in town. I just can’t believe it, that this is happening.”

York County Economic Alliance CEO Kevin Schreiber said “it’s an incredibly unfortunate announcement, obviously for a host of reasons. Notwithstanding the individual’s lives and employees who will be impacted, but also, this is a York legacy company. Bon-Ton is synonymous with York.”

The York County institution traces its roots back to its early beginnings on Market Street in York City, although York County History Center librarian emerita June Lloyd points out that many may remember another former location.

Lloyd said “a newspaper ad when they opened the store that many of us are familiar with, at the corner of market and beaver street in March 1912.”

Times have changed, and so has the retail industry.

“Make no mistake, this is not unique in York. This is really a national evolution of the retail sector, really driven by consumers who want greater convenience, and obviously the national Amazon effect that it is having on retailers like Bon-Ton,” Schreiber said.

The end of The Bon-Ton means more than losing a piece of York County history.

“One of the things that strikes me most, and this is a good illustration is how involved they have been with the community, sponsoring things like parades,” Lloyd said.

Lloyd found several photographs that show what The Bon-Ton meant to many children who grew up in York County.

“This is Santa coming on his float, these are from around 1950, they would arrive on the beaver street side,” Lloyd said.

“There are so many fond memories from York Countians of Bon-Ton,” Schreiber said.

“Going in, seeing the store displays in the window, the tea room which I have heard so much about,” Schreiber added.

As the retailer plans to go out of business, many say that its the store’s legacy that will be missed most of all.

“You could count on them having what you needed,” Lloyd said.

“Very, very, sad, I’m going to miss the store, the people who work here, and how pleasant they are, and how they assist you at all times,” Boyer said.

“One of the prime places you went to shop,” Lloyd said.

Soon, it won’t be a place to work for hundreds who will be out of a job.

“In York County, the retail industry employees about 21,000 individuals. While all of these individuals that work for Bon-Ton are being affected, and we never want to have families go through this type of transition, our hope is that this is still a small fragment of the overall retail industry,” Schreiber said.

Despite the current state of retail nationwide, Schreiber has hope.

"In recent months, we actually have had significant retailers make announcements of adding positions. Our hope is that we’re here to help, and that we can help these individuals who will be affected, transition as seamless as possible,” Schreiber said.