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Younkers owner reportedly in talks with private equity firm

in Wisconsin news

Sycamore Partners, a private equity firm with a reputation for scooping up underperforming retail operations, has held talks with troubled department store chain Bon-Ton Stores Inc. about acquiring some of the company’s assets, according to a Bloomberg report.

Bon-Ton is the parent company of Younkers, which is the sole remaining anchor store at Wausau Center mall.

Mounting debt and declining mall traffic have hurt Bon-Ton, a nearly 120-year-old chain. The conditions have prompted some  vendors to demand letters of credit or cash on delivery, further depleting liquidity, Bloomberg News reported this month.

Bon-Ton, which has headquarters in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, has posted losses for six straight years. In the first half of fiscal year 2017, the company reported losses of $90.5 million, with sales down about $93 million from the first six months of 2016, according to the latest earnings statement.

Bon-Ton’s assets may also attract interest from other suitors, Bloomberg reported. No final decisions have been made, and the companies may chose not to proceed with a deal.

Christine Hojnacki, a spokeswoman for Bon-Ton, declined to comment, as did a representative for New York-based Sycamore.

The chain, which has a market value of $15.7 million, has been working with financial advisers PJT Partners Inc. and AlixPartners to explore options for dealing with its more than $1 billion debt load.

A purchase of Bon-Ton assets would extend a remarkable run of retail deals for Sycamore. As the brick-and-mortar landscape turned bleaker in recent years, co-founders Stefan Kaluzny and Peter Morrow made contrarian bets on companies including Staples Inc., Aeropostale Holdings Inc. and Nine West Holdings Inc. The firm is seeking to raise a $4 billion fund — its largest yet — by January, letting it invest in more ailing retailers.

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