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Skopko Closing All Stores

Shopko announced Monday that it will close all its remaining stores, including the Onalaska location shown here at 9366 Hwy. 16. The discount retailer was founded by pharmacist James Ruben in Green Bay in 1962, and it was purchased by Sun Capital Partners, a private equity group in 2005. At its peak, the chain operated about 360 stores in 24 states.

Shopko is going out of business.

The Wisconsin-based retailer on Monday announced that all of its stores — including locations in La Crosse, Onalaska, Arcadia and Winona — will be closed by mid-June, after years of waning financials and mounting competitive pressure.

The company’s inability to find a buyer, officials said, proved to be the fatal blow.

“This is not the outcome that we had hoped for when we started our restructuring efforts,” said Russ Steinhorst, chief executive officer. “We want to thank all of our teammates for their hard work and dedication during their time at Shopko.”

Earlier this year, Shopko announced dozens of closures, including a store in North La Crosse, after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Steinhorst expressed optimism that a smaller, more focused footprint might do the company good. Those hopes were dashed by Monday’s announcement.

At the Shopko on La Crosse’s South Side, daytime shoppers lamented the loss of their neighborhood store — a place that feels more homey, more sentimental than rival big-box stores.

“Kmart is closed, and Walmart is way down there — this is all we have,” said a woman named Donna, who lives on the South Side and declined to share her last name. She was at Shopko on Monday to buy jelly beans and get her glasses repaired.

“Between this and the (nearby) Dollar Store, I come here a lot,” she said.

Bev, who also asked to go by her first name, said she comes to the South Side Shopko every couple weeks. She has a springtime ritual, she said, of buying her flowers here.

“It’s so sad,” she sad. “It’s awful news.”

“You hate to see it close,” said another woman, who lives in Prairie du Chien. “You hate having to go to the mall, at least I do, because I’m older.”

Terry Willer, who manages the South Side location, said it was a tough, emotional day — one he is still processing.

“I’ve had to tell people, some who have been with this company since the beginning, for 40 years, that we’re shutting down,” he said. The store has roughly 50 employees, and while some will retire, Willer said, others will have to find new jobs.

“They’ve put their lives into this company, and now they’ll have to learn something completely different,” he said.

Company officials estimate that the liquidation process will take 10 to 12 weeks at most locations. The local stores have not set firm closure dates, although they have begun hyping their last round of bargains.

On Monday, orange closing signs plastered the doors of the South Side location, advertising an additional 30 percent off.

“We’re known as people’s hometown store — not like Walmart or Target,” Willer said. “We’ve always prided ourselves on our customer service, on being that place for people.”

“This is not the outcome that we had hoped for when we started our restructuring efforts.” Russ Steinhorst, chief executive officer

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Kyle Farris can be reached at (608) 791-8234 or kfarris@lacrossetribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Kyle_A_Farris.

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