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Prange Way was an American chain of discount department stores. It was owned by the H. C. Prange Co. of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and at its peak, it operated stores in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. The chain closed its stores by the mid-1990s, several years after H. C. Prange itself was assumed into the Younkers chain.
Prange Way began as a discount shop in the basement of the flagship H. C. Prange Co. building in 1911. The Prange Way chain later evolved into a discount department store, with several locations throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota.
Two of their first major discount stores called Prange Way Discount Stores opened between 1965-1966 in the cities of Appleton and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, both anchoring new shopping center developments, the Marketplace Shopping Center, and Forest Shopping Center respectively. The latter would eventually be incorporated as a major anchor to Forest Mall upon that mall's opening in 1973. The Prange Way store at Manitowoc's Edegewater Plaza (now Lakeshore Mall), which closed in 1995, still remains vacant to this day.
Throughout the 1970s, the chain would expand slowly, eventually getting up to 20 locations. By the late 1970s, they attempted taking on a more 'upscale/discount' approach similar to Target Stores of today. However, in the faltering economy of that period into the early 1980s, this would backfire, and the chain's image with consumers soured.
Prange Way in 1979 would switch corporate identity, shortening the store name to just "PRANGE WAY" in large bold dark red stenciled letters. This would be used up to the chain's demise.
In 1985, and with 20 locations, Prange Way and rival Wisconsin-based ShopKo were in a discounter tug-of-war, each chain always one-upping the other with lower prices and price-matching. Many advertising circulars and TV spots claimed 'We Won't Be Undersold!" and "You'll Never Overpay."
By the late 1980s, Prange Way exited Illinois to refocus efforts solely on its home state of Wisconsin. In 1989, they grew by 7 more units with the buyout of Schultz's Family Stores discount store chain, and entered Minnesota for the first time.
By the middle of the decade, the chain was seeing its fortunes brighten after a rocky start apart from its former parent company. Plans were slated to open smaller-sized stores in small towns, similar to the Shopko Hometown stores, and large hypermarkets containing full discount and grocery areas, much similar to Meijer and Wal-Mart's Supercenters of today. Also, a chain-wide renovation plan was readied.
The chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October, 1995. An attorney for Prange Way cited competition from national discount chains as the reason for Prange Way's financial difficulties. Its largest debt was $3 million owed to the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. At the time, Prange Way operated 21 stores in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota, and did not plan to close any stores (though it did expect to lay off some employees). However, the stores did not last long after this, as liquidation sales were soon slated to begin in November. All Prange Way stores would be closed after the 1995 Christmas holiday season.
- Doris Hajewski, "Prange Way files for Chapter 11", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 14, 1995, p. D1.
- Hajewski, ibid.
- FNS, "3 retailers under the gun", HFN: The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network, October 23, 1995.
- "Prange Way in the throes of liquidation", Discount Store News, November 6, 1995, Vol. 34 Issue 21, p. 3.