‘Hometown’ Bon-Ton felt like family

Employees, customers, town to feel the loss

LEWISTOWN– Just like any family, some are full of disfunction, but no matter what, everyone supports one another through thick and thin.

Work families are no different. The employees of The Bon-Ton in Lewistown consider themselves to be family and are encouraging each other through the difficult liquidation process of the department store.

“We’re like a big disfunctional family,” said Nancy Hopple, a 14-year employee. “We’ve gone through births, deaths, marriages, sicknesses. We fight, we yell at each other, but I’m going to miss everybody. We’d do anything for each other.”

The associates also think of their customers as extended family.

“They know us personally,” said Jana Bingaman, a 33-year veteran with the store. “We have the same repeat customers. I love the people and still do.”

Some customers came in daily just to get out and about for some social time and for others, it was the personal touch found only at the Lewistown store.

Bingaman, who said many of the clientele are elderly, would often ask for her to assist them with their purchases.

“We were their source for clothing, household and appliances,” she said. “They would get the help they needed here. We would walk them through it, start to finish.”

Customer service was always preeminence for Bingaman and all the associates.

“My first priority is to serve the customer,” she said. “Without them, we wouldn’t have a job.”

Bingaman worries about the older clientele in the area who don’t or aren’t able to shop online.

“It’s going to hurt everyone involved,” she said. “The associates, the customers, the town. It’s a no-win situation.”

Bruce Aungst, manager of the local store, said he has hopes for the building to help fill the void that will be felt in the downtown.

“Our core customers are elderly who are not up for a trip to State College or Harrisburg,” he said. “I hope they are able to recruit a new retailer who offers similar quality merchandise so customers can take advantage of that.”

Customers are also echoing the employee’s sadness about the impending closure.

“I’m going to miss the convenience, the prices,” said Dot Peachey of Lewistown. “There is nothing left in Lewistown. I’ve been shopping here for over 40 years. It’s just a shame.”

Janet Walker, also a long-time customer, said she went to The Bon-Ton every Friday during her lunch break in search of a great deal or to see what the associates had found for her knowing she would like it and then would often hold former co-worker, the late Jim Tunall, captive as she showed him her purchases.

“We always got good deals,” Walker said. “I loved the personnel. They were like family and good friends and so helpful. It was always a joy to talk to them.”

Walker, who is no stranger to retail after working in many retail establishments in the downtown over the years, said the associates at The Bon-Ton were trained well.

“They had a gift,” she said.

Walker said she feels for the employees as she has been through it as she worked at Danks Department Store before its closure.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “My heart goes out to them.”

Looking to the future, Walker said she has great faith the community will get another shop in the location, but nothing will ever compare to The Bon-Ton.

“Shopping is sparse in the community,” she said. “We need shops and its hard for small shops to come in and make a profit.”

Barb Berryman, who has been with Bon-Ton for 27 years, said her customers are often asking, “Where are we going to shop now?” The employees are asking themselves the same question as well.

As the liquidation process continues, it has been hard for the employees to see the empty walls and imperfect displays.

“The liquidation process has been so much harder than anticipated,” Bingaman said. “We have standards that have been instilled in the associates to be perfect. There was never enough hours to get things done before. Now, they don’t want things to be perfect.”

The only thing one employee is looking forward to with the closure is never having to work on Thanksgiving ever again.

Otherwise, they treat each day until the last, with the same personal integrity they have been known for.

“We want to give the best customer service we can since it’s still The Bon-Ton to us,” Berryman said. “You never know if the next customer is your next employer.”

The “hometown Bon-Ton” is expected to close before August 31st when the corporation itself dissolves.