Bon-Ton store ready for Maine Mall opening
SOUTH PORTLAND — With some serenading by the South Portland High School Marching Band, the first Bon-Ton department store in Maine is set to open at 9 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 12.
But Alton Walker, Bon-Ton Stores vice president and regional store director, wants customers to know something unique is on the way after the music, ribbon cutting, gifts for the first 1,000 customers and remarks from Bon-Ton President and CEO Brendan Hoffman and South Portland Economic Director Jon Jennings.
"We are going to offer something different to the mall," Walker said Wednesday during a tour of the store's 120,000 square feet of retail space, spread over two floors in the former Filene's.
The first Bon-Ton store opened in York, Pa., in 1898, and new stores opening in South Portland and Fort Wayne, Ind., will expand the company to 272 locations in 24 states throughout New England, the Mid-Atlantic and upper Midwest Great Lakes regions.
"We don't want to come into a market and presume we are Bon-Ton," Walker said. Instead, each store adapts its inventory, interior design and hiring to its community. He estimated the store will employ between 150 and 200 people, depending on seasonal demands.
Bon-Ton operates its stores under a variety of names including Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers. The titles reflect how the company grew by regional acquisitions, Walker said.
The South Portland store is the first opening he has overseen, setting up clothing and apparel for men, women and children, cosmetics, jewelry and housewares.
"For about 12 straight days, we got deliveries from three trucks a day carrying 24 pallets. And they were stacked high," Walker said.
Store manager Charlene Brunner, who has been with Bon-Ton since 1996, said the opening is her first as well, although she oversaw some store moves.
"I'm very exicited," she said. "It is going very well, we are right on track."
Walker said the new store will also put new Bon-Ton practices fully in place. Customers who do not want to stand in line or cannot find an item in the store can order it online on large-screen kiosks throughout the store.
Customers will find wide aisles, spacious fitting rooms with solid wooden doors and angled mirrors to show the complete clothing fit, and receptacles for pins from new clothing. Outside the fitting rooms are comfortable chairs.
"There are so many small touches that go into this," Walker said.
The Maine Mall is already home to Macy's and J.C. Penney stores, but Walker expects the competition to be good for the stores and for shoppers. He said the attention to small details will set Bon-Ton apart.
"There are a lot of choices out there," he said. "A lot of what will set us apart is our total commitment to customer service."
Customers can expect to find name brands, and Bon-Ton stores also sell their own private brands, like Ruff Hewn apparel.
"We will have a good selection and plenty of value," Walker said.
The Bon-Ton Stores look to be engaged in their communities, too. Walker said one of the first in-store events will be the Goodwill Sale, where customers can bring in unused and unwanted clothing to donate to Goodwill and receive 25 percent off purchases.
"The clothes go right to the local Goodwill store," Walker said.
Local nonprofits will be able to sell Bon-Ton coupon books for fundraising, making $5 per book.
After weeks of work, Walker and Brunner are ready to open the doors.
"It is like getting ready for a dinner party," Walker said. "But we really want to be your neighborhood store."