MASON CITY | Despite speculation that Younkers in the Southbridge Mall might be closing, the store remains open for business.
That might change, however, pending an agreement between an investment group and Bon-Ton, the parent company of Younkers.
Bon-Ton had announced store closures throughout its company earlier this year, including Younkers stores in Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids. The company is closing those stores — and dozens of others nationwide — to comply with the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, Act.
The act requires large employers to notify states, employees and local communities at least 60 days before any potential closings. Bon-Ton sent WARN letters to state labor departments nationwide last week.
Cory Kelly, a spokesperson for Iowa Workforce Development, said IWD regularly updates its list of businesses affected by WARN letters. Mason City's store isn't on the list the group updated earlier this month.
Steven Van Steenhuyse, Mason City's development services director, said he had seen a copy of the WARN letter issued to state labor departments.
He said the letter had to be sent because of the company's bankruptcy situation. Bon-Ton filed for bankruptcy in February.
Kelly said the IWD can't comment on businesses not on the agency's WARN list.
"We don’t comment on information that has not yet been publicly released as it relates to the WARN emails or letters," Kelly said, adding: "We publish these pretty much near real-time."
Mason City Younkers manager Kerry Kamm deferred comment to Bon-Ton spokesperson Christine Hojnacki.
Hojnacki said in a brief interview Friday the company notified employees nationwide in a letter April 5 about the possibility of store closures.
According to Bon-Ton's most recent news release, investors Namdar Realty Group and Washington Prime Group have signed a letter of intent to buy Bon-Ton's assets.
Hojnacki declined to comment about where the process stands right now, providing the Globe Gazette with a prepared statement about possible job losses.
"We are encouraged by the interest in Bon-Ton and we hope that jobs will be preserved through a sale process," a portion of the statement read. "We remain committed to pursuing the best path forward for the Company and its stakeholders, including Bon-Ton associates.”
Bankruptcy court filings show the group would purchase Bon-Ton’s assets for a baseline bid of no less than $128 million. According to the investors, the action would save more than 20,000 jobs nationwide and preserve "a 120-year-old business that is a significant customer for its vendors, an anchor tenant for many of its landlords, and the leading hometown department store for millions of consumers in local communities throughout 23 states."
That would have to occur before Bon-Ton puts itself on the auction block April 16, according to a news release.
Van Steenhuyse said he's unsure of what Younkers' future is, but said it would be a negative for Southbridge Mall if the anchor tenant closed.
"All I know is that under the bankruptcy court, I guess there are people who will want to buy it that will liquidate and people who will want to buy it that want to reorganize," he said.
"I can’t speculate. It’s a corporate decision," he added about the store's future. "I would miss Younkers very much, and no doubt, it would be a blow to the mall. But we’ll keep moving forward and trying to make the mall viable."