WORTHINGTON -- The Christopher & Banks women's clothing store in the Northland Mall has been cleared out, and the store shelves at the Old Home Bakery Outlet across the street are also emptying, leaving Worthington with two fewer businesses in a three-week-span.
Christopher & Banks closed its doors May 18. A sign inside the gate to the shop directs customers to their online store, or to its store in the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls, S.D. Meanwhile, the bread store is closing out its inventory in preparation of a June 8 closure.
Officials with Christopher & Banks' corporate office in Plymouth declined to comment on the store's closure in the mall, and the former manager said she couldn't comment about the corporate decision to close.
Christopher & Banks is the latest in a long line of businesses to leave the Northland Mall. On Tuesday morning, five gallon buckets and waste baskets could be seen in the public walkways of the mall, catching rain water as it leaked through the roof.
Across the street, bread store manager Sue Flesner was arranging the quickly disappearing product as customers come in to stock up on everything from bread and jam to fig bars and bags of chips.
Every day she's worked for the last 31 and a half years, Flesner has been welcomed into the Old Home Bakery Outlet on Oxford Street by the smell of fresh bread and assorted pastries.
Working among the loaves of cinnamon raisin, white, wheat, whole grain and potato breads, she said she's so used to the smell, she doesn't even notice it anymore.
With the shelves clearing out because of the store's announced closure, Flesner may soon miss the smell of bread, but she'll miss the customers more. The store will close for good at 5 p.m., June 8.
The bread store has been a staple on the east end of Oxford Street in Worthington since 1971. It was the first thrift store the Metz Baking Co. family opened outside of its base in Sioux City, Iowa. Over the past 42 years, the store's ownership has changed, though the Old Home sign out front has always remained the same.
After Metz sold the Worthington store, it was taken over by Earthgrains and later by Sara Lee. For the past couple of years, BBU -- Bimbo Bakeries USA -- has owned the business. BBU is the parent company of both Earthgrains and Sara Lee, along with numerous other brand names.
Flesner said she learned two weeks ago that the Worthington location would be closing. It's one of 21 outlet stores owned by BBU in Minnesota. Stores in Marshall, Spencer, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, S.D., are anticipated to remain open. Pipestone's outlet store closed about a month ago.
Since it opened in Worthington, the retail bread store has operated alongside a bread delivery service. When Flesner started with the company in 1982, there were eight route drivers working out of the location. Today there are just three, although they have larger delivery routes to businesses and restaurants between Fairmont, Windom, Fulda and Adrian.
The route drivers will continue to supply bread to the outlet store up until its closure, while grocery items are marked 20 percent off this week, and likely 50 percent off next week. Any leftover grocery items will be sent to other outlet stores in the region, Flesner said.
While she is the only full-time employee at the thrift store, there are also three part-timers who are losing their job with the closure. Two of them were retired and the third has a full-time job elsewhere -- they all worked at the store for supplemental income.
Flesner isn't sure yet what she'll do. She is in a business partnership operating a food vendor trailer, which will keep her busy throughout the summer festival season.
"I've been here over half my life," Flesner said. "It's been a great job for me. The biggest thing is all the customers I'm going to miss.
"My daughter was one and a half years old when I started here," she added. "They (customers) ask about my kids, my preacher daughter, my little boy --he's 25 years old now."
Just as the customers inquired about her family, Flesner said she got to know the regulars. She sympathized with cancer patients who'd come in following chemo treatments, she watched families grow and she now sees customers who come in to shop with their kids when, not all that long ago, they were the kids coming in with their parents.
While Flesner said the store's closure was a "corporate decision," she offered her own speculations, ranging from smaller families and therefore reduced sales, to the competition from Worthington's two major grocery stores and Wal-Mart.
Still, the announced closure has created "a lot of shock" among the thrift store's clientele, she added.
"It's going to be weird not coming to work in the morning," Flesner said. "I'm just so grateful this didn't happen 20 years ago.
The bakery outlet will be open from 8:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays through June 8.
A request for comment regarding the bread store's closure was made to Margulies Communications Group, which handles media inquiries for BBU, but information was not provided as of press time on Tuesday.
An emailed response arrived Wednesday morning from Bimbo Bakeries USA, stating, "Our company is a manufacturer, marketer and distributor of the world's best fresh baked breads, buns, rolls and cake products. In order to focus more sharply on our core competencies, the decision was made to close some of our retail stores."
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.