By Shereen Siewert

Foot Locker will eliminate multiple departments in its downtown Wausau location, shifting some operations to Florida, Wausau Pilot & Review has learned.

Mary Signorino, a media spokesperson for Foot Locker, Inc., confirmed the move late Wednesday in an email, calling the initiative an effort to drive productivity.

“As such, we’ve made the strategic decision to consolidate select Eastbay operations into the Champs Sports headquarters to create better connections with our customers,” Signorino said.

The Champs Sports headquarters is in West Bradenton, Florida.

Signorino said the company is “making every effort to transition as much talent as possible to open roles in the broader Foot Locker, Inc. organization.”

Signorino did not specify the number of employees impacted by the decision.

Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg, a former Foot Locker employee, said she is saddened by the news, especially given her personal and relatively recent history with Foot Locker/Eastbay, a company that has had a nearly 40-year history with Wausau.

“I know many of the leaders who had to agonize over the state of retail and this decision,” Rosenberg said. “I also know and care deeply about many of the employees who are likely affected.”

The company in April announced it would furlough the “majority” of its store workers in the United States and Canada, along with some store employees in Australia and some supply chain workers in the U.S. During the furlough period, workers would continue to receive scheduled health and other benefits. The furloughs will extend until operations can resume “in accordance with national, state, and local guidance related to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to the Wisconsin Dept. of Workforce Development, Foot Locker laid off nearly 300 Wisconsin workers in late April, including 21 in Wausau.

A new DWD WARN notice has not yet been posted. Multiple sources within Foot Locker tell Wausau Pilot & Review the changes will be complete by mid-July.

“We thank our dedicated Eastbay team for their contributions to our company and are committed to providing those affected with transition support and other resources,” Signorino said.

Foot Locker has 3,129 retail stores in 27 countries across North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. As of Feb. 2, 2019, the company and its subsidiaries employed 15,470 full-time staff as well as 33,861 part-time workers.

Now known as Foot Locker, Inc., the company has strong roots in Wausau. Eastbay was launched in 1980 when Richard Gering and Art Juedes set up a shoe company in Wausau, eventually developing a catalog for baseball and track & field shoes.

In 1989, the company began a team sales division and in 1990, they created and produced its first in-house team sales catalog. By 1990, Eastbay’s call center, shipping and creative departments occupied just under one city block.

Eastbay established its own clothing brand in 1990, offering jackets, pants, shorts, underwear, socks and tops in various sports teams’ colors and styles, with the Eastbay logo.

On September 29, 1995, Eastbay made an initial public offering on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Two years later, shareholders sold the company to F. W. Woolworth Company.

In July 1997, Eastbay moved its downtown corporate operation and retail store to a larger space on Wausau’s near west side. Three months later, the company combined the shipping department and various warehouses into a new 500,000-square-foot distribution center on the outskirts of the city. In March 1998, Eastbay converted its marketing website into an e-commerce site. Two additional call centers were subsequently opened in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and Green Bay. Juedes and Gering retired in 1999.

“These are really challenging times,” Rosenberg said. “I know that we are a strong community and there are opportunities for growth on the other side of this economic downturn but this is tough.”