|Founded||1856 Keokuk, Iowa|
|Headquarters||Iowa, United States|
Number of locations
|Products||Clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, housewares|
Saks, Inc. (1998–2006)
The Bon-Ton (2006-present)
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 and surrounding states in the Midwest region of the United States. It rhymes with Yonkers, New York. 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[update], it operates more than forty locations in this region.
The company was founded by three Polish Jewish immigrant brothers Lipman, Samuel, and Marcus Younker, who opened a general store in Keokuk, Iowa 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. The future novelist and newspaper editor Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd worked as a clerk at the Younkers store in Des Moines in 1889. 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, 2005. 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. On March 30, 2014 the closed Younker's location caught fire resulting in total loss of the building.
A series of additions, enlargements, and mergers resulted in the company changing its name to Younkers Incorporated. The 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 Brintnall's 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, a fire broke out in the Younkers store in the Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, killing 11 people. To date, it is the most devastating fire in Des Moines' history, and destroyed the original Younkers at the mall. It is also the third deadliest department store fire in US history. The fire was caused by faulty wiring. In the early hours of March 29, 2014, a fire ravaged the former Younkers Building in downtown Des Moines.
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, 1992, Younkers purchased the 22 stores of the H.C. Prange chain in Wisconsin and Michigan.
Acquisition by Proffitt's
After a hostile takeover bid by Carson Pirie Scott was rejected in 1995, Younkers' shareholders agreed to a friendly merger by Proffitt's, Inc., of Knoxville, Tennessee. The merger was completed in December 1996. Proffitt's would later acquire Carson Pirie Scott, and in 1998 Proffitt's acquired 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, 2006.
- The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. 2012 Annual Report
- Jewish Daily Forward: "Iowa's Fields of Midwestern Jewish Dreams" by Stephen G. Bloom September 23, 2014
- Bushnell's Des Moines City and Polk County Directory (Des Moines, 1889)