Younkers is an American department store chain founded as a family-run dry goods business in 1856 in Keokuk, Iowa. The retailer has since evolved over more than 150 years to include a presence in locations throughout Iowa (notably in the capital city of Des Moines) and surrounding states in the Midwest region of the United States. Younkers became influential as it acquired several rivals throughout the 20th century both inside and outside of Iowa. The chain itself was sold by the late 1990s, with ownership transferring out of state, and its Des Moines-based headquarters closed by 2003 as a part of corporate consolidation. Following its most recent sale in 2006, Younkers operates as a subsidiary of The Bon-Ton, with locations in seven Midwestern states, primarily in shopping malls. As of 2008, it operates more than forty locations in this region.
The company was founded by Polish
Jewish immigrant brothers Lipman, Samuel, and Marcus Younker, who opened a general store in Keokuk
in 1856. Herman Younker, the youngest of the brothers, opened a dry goods store in Des Moines
, Iowa in 1874. Following Samuel's death in 1879, the Keokuk store was closed and the Des Moines location became the main store. In 1899 the Younker brothers' main store in downtown Des Moines was moved to 7th and Walnut Streets, and it operated at the same location for 106 years before closing on August 12
. The downtown Des Moines store became known for its Tea Room restaurant, which opened in 1913 and closed shortly before the store did. It also installed Iowa
's first escalator
, known as the "electric stairs," in 1939.
A series of additions, enlargements, and mergers resulted in the company changing its name to Younkers Incorporated. The Grand Department Store in downtown Des Moines was purchased in 1912. The company started growing in the 1920s by acquiring other department stores throughout Iowa, including Wilkins Department Stores (1923), Harris-Emery (1927), and J. Mandelbaum and Sons (1928). The Iowa-based retailers Britnalls of Marshalltown and Davidson's of Sioux City were acquired in 1948 and Yetters of Iowa City was acquired in 1949. Younkers began expanding outside of Iowa during the 1950s and opened its first shopping mall store in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1955. (It acquired another Omaha department store, Kilpatrick's, in 1961.) By 1978 Younkers had 28 stores in five states.
In November 1978 when a fire broke out in the Younkers store in Merle Hay Mall
, Des Moines
killing 10 of the store’s 25 employees. To date, it is the most devastating fire in Des Moines
’ history, and destroyed the original Younkers at the mall. The fire was caused by faulty wiring.
Acquisitions of Brandeis and H.C. Prange
Younkers was operated by the Equitable of Iowa insurance company from 1979 to 1992 after being a publicly-traded company since 1948. Under Equitable's ownership, Younkers acquired all 11 locations of the Omaha-based Brandeis
department store chain in 1987. After returning to public ownership on the NASDAQ
on April 22
, Younkers purchased the 22 stores of the H.C. Prange
chain in Wisconsin
Acquisition by Proffitt's
After a hostile takeover
bid by Carson Pirie Scott
was rejected in 1995, Younkers' shareholders agreed to a friendly takeover by Proffitt's
, Inc., of Knoxville, Tennessee
. The acquisition was completed in October 1996; Proffitt's would later acquire Carson Pirie Scott, and in 1998 Proffitt's merged with Saks Fifth Avenue
to form Saks Incorporated
. In 2003, Saks closed Younkers' headquarters in Des Moines and merged its operations with those of Carson Pirie Scott in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Sale to The Bon-Ton
Saks sold Younkers and its other Northern Department Store Group stores (Carson Pirie Scott, Bergner's
, Boston Store
, and Herberger's
) to Bon-Ton
Stores in a $1.1 billion deal that was completed on March 6
As of 2007, Younkers has 46 stores in Iowa, Illinois
, South Dakota
, and Wisconsin
. Most of its stores are anchors of shopping malls.