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Buyer potentially could save Carson's at Southlake Mall

The former Carson Pirie Scott, now Carson's, at Southlake Mall in Hobart.

An investor group has stepped forward and sent Carson's parent company The Bon-Ton Stores a letter it intends to buy it out of bankruptcy, a deal that potentially could save the Carson's department store at the Southlake Mall.

Last week, the struggling Bon-Ton Stores sent a letter to the state of Indiana's Department of Workforce Development warning it could permanently shutter the 43-year-old Carson's department store in Hobart, laying off 137 workers, starting June 5.

The Pennsylvania-based retailer, which operates 260 stores under the Carson's, Bon-Ton, Bergner's, Boston Store, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers nameplates, filed for bankruptcy in February as it looks to restructure more than $1 billion in debt. The company was supposed to go up for auction Monday, but the bankruptcy court-supervised auction was pushed back to next Monday when the potential buyer emerged, according to a release from the company.

An investor group composed of alternative asset manager DW Partners, commercial real estate investment and management firm Namdar Realty Group, its partner Mason Asset Management and retail real estate investment trust Washington Prime Group proposed to buy Bon-Ton through the bankruptcy court-supervised sales process. The group is now negotiating an asset purchase agreement, but an auction still will take place to ensure lenders get the highest or best offer.

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“We are pleased to have received this signed letter of intent and are advancing our discussions with the investor group to complete an asset purchase agreement as we proceed toward the court-supervised auction," Bon-Ton President and CEO Bill Tracy said. "With the help of our advisers, we will evaluate all qualified bids and are committed to maximizing value and pursuing the best path forward for the company and our stakeholders. I would like to thank our talented associates, our vendors and our other partners for their ongoing support through our court-supervised restructuring process.”

The company said it was required by state and federal law to warn employees about potential closures and layoffs last week, but was "hopeful the sales process will preserve jobs." All stores will remain open during the sales process, but the investment group has not indicated whether it plans to keep all stores open or reduce the retailer's footprint in a difficult environment for brick-and-mortar retailers.

A Bon-Ton spokesperson declined to comment further.

Carson's also operates stores at the Marquette Mall in Michigan City and at the site of the former Woodmar Mall in Hammond.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.