H. C. Prange Co.

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Image of an average Prange's store, taken from a 1991 GMC dealers ad
Site of original flagship store in downtown Sheboygan, Wisconsin, photographed in 2006. The store closed in 2014 and was torn down a year later.

H.C. Prange Co. was a regional department store chain begun by Henry Carl (H.C.) Prange in 1887 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The chain was dissolved and the stores converted to the rival Younkers chain after sale in 1992.

History[edit]

Founding[edit]

Henry Prange was the son of farmers who had immigrated to Wisconsin from Germany following the Revolutions of 1848. Advised by doctors that his health precluded him from farming, in 1876 he began working at Sheboygan's John Plath's general store as a clerk, janitor, and delivery boy. He spent the next eleven years learning the retail business. In 1887 he attempted to purchase a share of his employer's store. Rebuffed, he quit and established his own store on October 4, 1887 with his sister Eliza, and brother-in-law, J.H. Bitter.

The 3,300-square-foot (310 m2) store located in Sheboygan was called H.C. Prange. Prange's offered everything from cradles to coffins and, unlike his local competition, also extended credit to local farmers and purchased their crops at harvest-time. German and English was spoken by all the store's employees from its founding until 1941; Sheboygan had a large German-speaking population served by German-language media until assimilation efforts post-World War I. Soon he was the preferred store for the farming community of Sheboygan.

The store became such a rapid success that in 1898 it incorporated as the H.C. Prange Company. By 1923, a new store was built on the same site with more than 180,000 square feet (17,000 m2) making it the largest store in Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee.

New Era[edit]

Before Prange's death in 1928, the H.C. Prange Company had become a multimillion-dollar business with hundreds of employees that were referred to as "associates". Upon his father's death, H. Carl Prange, while in his mid-twenties, was given the responsibility of running the company.

H. Carl Prange's goal in 1930 during the stock market crash was to do one million dollars in the grocery business and two million in dry-goods. During the Depression, while still heavily in debt from the purchase of the Hall Dry Goods building in Green Bay, Prange acquired the LM Washburn company of Sturgeon Bay and opened the firm's third store. In 1935 a disastrous fire burned the Sturgeon Bay store to the ground. Five months after the fire a new store was built. The year 1946 saw the purchase of Appleton's Pettibone-Peabody store, one of the oldest retail organizations in the state.

Over the years more acquisitions were made by the H.C. Prange Company, and existing stores underwent continuous improvement to keep abreast of the times.[1]

At its peak, the H. C. Prange Co. had 25 stores, 18 in Wisconsin, five in Michigan, and two in Illinois, with a total of about 2,100,000 square feet (200,000 m2) of retail space.[2] In 1991, Prange's department store unit had sales of about $229 million. The company's largest store was in Green Bay's Port Plaza Mall. At its peak, the H.C. Prange Company also operated a chain of 20 discount stores known as Prange Way, and a chain of 106 id boutique stores. Some of the remaining Peck & Peck locations were acquired by the company after a sale by their previous owners, Minneapolis-based Salkin & Linoff in the late 1970s.

The End[edit]

The H.C. Prange Company's 25-unit department store division was purchased by Younkers, Inc. for $67 million in 1992. Younkers also assumed about $9 million in liabilities of the division. Eventually Younkers would become a part of Saks "northern group" which later enveloped longtime Prange's competitors Boston Store and Herberger's under the same corporate umbrella.This division was ultimately sold to The Bon-Ton of York, PA.

The former Prange's flagship store in Sheboygan ended operations in mid-January 2014 after several years of operating under The Bon-Ton's Boston Store banner after their purchase of Younkers. The building was reconstructed in 1984 after a water main break in 1982 forced demolition of the old flagship store after the building's support columns sagged. During the demolition, a spectacular fire which was likely caused by an arsonist spread burning debris from the building over a nearly mile-wide area on a windy evening, also causing damage to the St. Clement's school gymnasium three blocks southwest of the Prange's site. As of 2014, the arsonist has never been caught and the fire remains one of Sheboygan's most prominent cold cases. The 1984 building was torn down beginning in January 2015 over a two-month period, and was used as an open field for a series of concerts that summer before construction began on a new apartment development intended to spur the filling of professional jobs in the area. A Boston Store remains in the Sheboygan area within Kohler's Deer Trace development with some employees moving to that location, though that location opened in the early 2000s as an Elder-Beerman unrelated to Younkers or Prange's before their purchase by Bon-Ton.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sheboygan County: 150 Years of Progress, Hildebrandt, Janice. 1998
  2. ^ Daily News Record. Younkers to Acquire Prange Unit" Daily News Record. July 2, 1992

External links[edit]