PRESQUE ISLE – The last Porteous department store in New England is closing at the Aroostook Centre Mall in late October, ending 126 years of operation at the department store chain.
A total of 25 employees will lose their jobs, but will not receive severance packages, according to a store official.
The store, which begins its liquidation sale today, was acquired approximately 10 years ago by PMB Inc., a subsidiary of The Dunlap Co. of Fort Worth, Texas.
Jack Simmons, director of special projects for The Dunlap Co., said Wednesday that the store’s closure wasn’t inevitable, but it was necessary.
“We look at every store on a profit-loss basis,” Simmons said. “If you can’t make a profit, you have to walk away. Unfortunately, that was the case here.”
According to Simmons, the store’s 10-year lease with the mall was nearing its end, and an agreement for a new lease with the mall’s management company, Sitt Asset Management of New York City, was not reached. The director said the new lease they considered was adjusted for inflation.
“They wanted to make up for lost time,” Simmons said. “But they went up on the rent to a point where we couldn’t make a profit.”
Simmons said he is coordinating the store’s closure, with the help of its 25 employees. He said closing stores isn’t always easy, but the local employees have been a joy to work with during the transition.
“When you know bad news is hanging around, it isn’t always easy to do the job,” he said. “But in the face of not so great news, they’ve been very generous.”
Asked if the employees would receive any layoff compensation, Simmons said the question was “in poor taste.”
Store merchandise and equipment must be out of the 50,000-square-foot space, owned by Sitt Asset subsidiary Aroostook Centre LLC, by Halloween.
A Maine family-based store, Porteous, known as Porteous Mitchell & Braun Co. Inc., was started 126 years ago and had stores in Bangor, Auburn, Brunswick, Portland and South Portland, as well as Presque Isle. The company also had stores in Newington, N.H., and Burlington, Vt.
Porteous takes with it several exclusive cosmetic and clothing lines, including Estee Lauder, Clinique, Liz Claiborne and Alfred Dunner. Locals will have to travel several hours to Bangor or Fredericton, New Brunswick, to purchase such brand items.
“It’s sad to see Porteous go,” Patti Crooks, mall general manager, said Wednesday. “It’s been a place you could always find quality goods. We won’t have those products up here after they’re gone, unless we can figure out something else.”
Crooks said mall management has been speaking with several different retailers. “We are showing the space to prospective merchants,” she said. But the manager said she was not in a position to divulge any further information.
Crooks would not respond to reports that Old Navy clothing store may set up shop in Presque Isle. Efforts made Wednesday to reach Old Navy and Gap Inc. corporate offices, which owns Old Navy, were unsuccessful.
Porteous was the mall’s only anchor store to renegotiate its lease recently, Crooks said. Aroostook Centre Mall’s other anchor stores are J.C. Penney, Sears and KMart. “Those leases are a long time out,” she said.
The mall was maintaining a 10 percent vacancy rate before Porteous’ closing.
Despite the loss of an old-school retailer, Crooks believes there’s good news ahead for the local mall.
“Where is the Aroostook Centre Mall going?” Crooks asked. “It may not always be 100 percent traditional retailing. We may move into entertainment and service industry needs. … But we’ll always move the mall into the direction that’s better for our customers.”