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Herberger's opens at its new location in Rimrock Mall

A crowd gathers in Rimrock Mall for a ceremony celebrating the opening of the new Herberger's location in 2015.

Herberger's, with six locations in Montana, is facing an uncertain future. 

The store's parent company, Bon-Ton Stores Inc., recently filed for bankruptcy and has had trouble finding investors to help it restructure. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that at the start of a bankruptcy auction for Bon-Ton the only two bids it received were from liquidators. Bon-Ton is based in Milwaukee.

The bankruptcy auction is still open. If no other group outbids one of the liquidators and the bankruptcy judge signs off on the deal, the process of shutting down stores and liquidating Bon-Ton's assets to pay back creditors will begin. 

A spokeswoman for Bon-Ton did not respond to messages on Tuesday seeking comment. 

Montana's six Herberger's stores are located in Billings, Butte, Great Falls, Havre, Kalispell and Missoula, according to the company's website.

Chris Partelow, Herberger’s manager at the Butte Plaza Mall, said she could not comment on the future of the company and referred all comments to Bon-Ton.

Alana Ferko, operations manager for the Butte mall, also declined to comment.

Leadership at Rimrock Mall in Billings, where the store is an achor, was upbeat. 

"We know that retail real estate is a constantly evolving entity," Daron Olson, the mall's marketing director, said by email Tuesday. "We look at possible former anchor locations as a huge opportunity to add mixed-use components to the property as we serve our guests' evolving needs."

Over the past few years, Rimrock has slowly moved away from the traditional mall concept and worked to create a mixed-use retail center that includes community space, entertainment, activities and hospitality.

In 2015, the Herberger's store moved across the mall from a cavernous space on one end to a smaller space at the other. To fill the old space — over 14,000 square feet — Rimrock brought in a gymnastics studio, which will open in June. 

For a few months, the mall used that spot as exhibition space for a car dealership. 

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It's a tough time to be in the mall business. Credit Suisse released a report last summer that said it expected 25 percent of U.S. malls to close by 2022.

More shoppers are finding their way online, and department stores, strapped for cash, are finding it more difficult to maintain acres of retail space at city malls. Last year, real-estate research firm Cushman and Wakefield produced a report that showed a 50 percent drop in mall shoppers from 2010 to 2013.

One of Rimrock's strategies to survive and hopefully thrive is to recruit businesses that feed off each other. For example, moms who drop off their kids at the new gymnastics studio might want to go get their nails done at Paris Nails while they wait for practice to finish.

"Our parent company, Starwood Retail Partners, has successfully done this in several properties around the country," Olson said.

In order to find success moving into the future, malls will need to be flexible and offer a variety of services, Olson said. 

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