By James E. Casto
For The State Journal
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., parent company of Elder-Beerman, has announced it plans to close its department store at the Huntington Mall Jan. 21, 2016. When Elder-Beerman closes its doors at the mall it will write an end to what’s surely the longest-running retail story in the Huntington, WV area.
In a news release, Bon-Ton Stores said the Huntington Mall store was one of three underperforming locations where it had decided not to renew its leases. The release indicated the other two stores are in Lima, Ohio, and Syracuse, New York.
A spokesman for the Cafaro Co., which owns the Huntington Mall, said it is negotiating with other national retailers which have indicated possible interest in occupying all or part of the 75,000 square feet store being vacated by Elder-Beerman.
Huntington, WV history shows Elder-Beerman’s mall store is directly descended from a small dry goods store opened in downtown Huntington by J.W. Valentine in 1894.
In 1902, Valentine partnered with other Huntington businessmen to build a three-floor store building on 3rd Avenue between 9th and 10th streets. The store and its 3rd Avenue building would change hands and names over the years but ultimately, as the Anderson-Newcomb Co., it would be a familiar fixture to generations of Huntington shoppers.
Over the years Anderson-Newcomb recorded a long list of local “firsts.” It was the first store in Huntington to have a horse-drawn delivery wagon, then the first to abandon the horse in favor of a motorized vehicle. It was the first store in the city to establish a policy of “the same price for every customer” — thus eliminating the haggling then common at stores. It was the city’s first store with a passenger elevator, the first to give its employees paid vacations and the first to install a telephone switchboard.
In 1970, locally owned Anderson-Newcomb was purchased by the Wheeling-based Stone & Thomas chain. Initially, the Anderson-Newcomb name remained in place but later was removed.
The 1980 opening of the Huntington Mall at Barboursville was a body blow to the city’s downtown. Many retailers closed their doors. Stone & Thomas held out downtown long after many people had expected it see it close. Finally, in 1996, Stone & Thomas announced the closure of what once was the city’s grandest store.
Stone & Thomas continued to operate its store at the Huntington Mall until the late 1990s when it was acquired by Elder-Beerman.
Meanwhile, the old Anderson-Newcomb / Stone & Thomas building in downtown Huntington sat vacant and neglected for years. It seemed only a matter of time before a demolition crew would arrive to send it crashing to the ground.
But in 2014, Marshall University proudly cut the ribbon on the school’s new Visual Arts Center, fashioned from the former downtown department store in a renovation process that required three years of work and the investment of $13.7 million.