(Harris’) Gottschalks gone

(Harris’) Gottschalks gone
July 2009 - Store closing

July 2009 – Store closing

This past weekend saw the end of an era as Fresno-based Gottschalks closed for good on Sunday. For local folks, this also means an end to what once was the remnants of San Bernardino-based The Harris Co., which operated 7 department stores across Inland Southern California before the chain was sold to Gottschalks in 1998.

At the Riverside Plaza location, shoppers crowded parts of the first floor to buy merchandise that had been reduced up to 95% in the store’s final days. Also up for sale were fixtures and even signage. Other areas of the selling floor had already been stripped bare of most merchandise.

July 2009 - Closing sale

July 2009 – Closing sale

The 3-story (plus basement) store will be transformed into a large-format Forever 21, which is expected to open sometime in August. Yet to be made public is exactly how much of the 204,000 sq. ft. former Gottschalks will be used by Forever 21. It’s possible sub-leasing might take place.

As for both Gottschalks and Harris’, what began in 1904 and 1905 respectively, is now history. The story behind both chains offer similar parallels, each having been founded by newly immigrated German families (Emil Gottschalk and Philip, Herman and Arthur Harris respectively).

Although Gottschalks grew much faster as a chain in the post-war years relative to Harris’, both chains remained independently owned for many decades, thriving on local control and insights. For Harris’, this led to a very loyal customer base, becoming what many considered the Marshall Field’s of the Inland region.

July 2009 - Final day

July 2009 – Final day

By 1981, however, the smaller Harris’ chain was facing stiffer competition against the larger department stores. It was at this time that third-generation members of the Harris family decided to sell the Inland Southern California chain to Spanish retailer El Corte Ingles.

And by the time of their 1998 merger — in which the 7 local Harris’ stores were re-branded as Harris’-Gottschalks — both chains were beginning to struggle against the national department stores and discount chains. Within 10 years, signs of possible selling off to larger chains began to surface at Gottschalks, none of which managed to fully materialize. As such, it was a dire economy that finally ended the chain for good as Gottschalks filed for bankruptcy in early 2009.

1964 - Back in the day

1964 – Back in the day

In today’s mega-franchise retailing environment, such personalized regional chains are a rarity (and likely to become even more so). And with Sunday’s closure of the 58-store Gottschalks chain — most of which were located in California — the last remnants of Harris’ is no more as well.

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Sources: City of Riverside, The Press-Enterprise, Fresno Bee, Riverside Plaza, “The Harris Company” (Aimmee L. Rodriguez, Richard A. Hanks, Robin S. Hanks)

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