J.c. Holmes

Gordmans store associate J.c. Holmes rings up a customer on Thursday, June 27, 2019. Gordmans opened its Mount Vernon location that day.

MOUNT VERNON – When parent company Stage Stores announced in March it would be turning Mount Vernon’s Peebles into a Gordmans this summer, Jan Ross couldn’t help but be a little worried.

She was a longtime Peebles customer, after all, and was unsure about the transition from a more traditional department store to an off-price outlet.

But after talking with people who had shopped at Gordmans before, and then seeing the store for herself during its grand opening Thursday, that fear was quickly alleviated.

“I think it’s beautiful. Wonderful. A real asset to Mount Vernon,” Ross said as she perused the home decor section. “And this is cheaper than Peebles. I love it.”

Ross was one of several hundred to flock to Gordmans that day, eager to check out Knox County’s newest off-price store. The parking lot in front of 1548 Coshocton Avenue, in the Knox Village Square shopping complex, was still full two hours after manager Elise Smith cut the ribbon.

“I think it’s been a great community response,” said Smith, who previously managed Mount Vernon's Peebles. “[The] community response has been very positive through all the changeover. Even our regular Peebles customers that cried, they were really sad, but they’re liking the product and the changes and the prices. So that’s a positive. I’m just excited.”

The first 100 customers in the door Thursday received a scratch-off gift card worth at least $5, with one worth $50. Those ran out almost immediately, Smith said. Customers also received free gifts as they walked in the door, and leftover Peebles products were marked down to $1.99.

Smith described Gordmans as a store with a wide variety of products – everything from apparel to accessories to home decor – at consistently low prices.

“I would say that it is the best of both worlds when it comes to a department store and an off-price store,” Smith said. “Our prices are better. We have coupons, which Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx [don’t]. And you still get the same quality that you were getting at a department store, with lower prices.”

Mount Vernon’s Gordmans was one of 36 nationwide to open this week, as Texas-based Stage Stores plans to open a total of 74 by the end of the summer. Gordmans stores in Coshocton and Bucyrus also opened their doors on Thursday.

The long-term plan for Stage Stores is to make Gordmans its centerpiece. Stage Stores acquired Gordmans in 2017, and before this summer there were only 87 Gordmans stores across the U.S. The chain was far outnumbered by other Stage properties, such as Peebles, Bealls, Goody’s and Palais Royal.

By the end of 2020, however, that model will have been turned on its head. Stage Stores plans to convert approximately 220 department stores to Gordmans by that time, RetailWire.com reported in March. Gordmans locations are projected to represent almost 50 percent of Stage’s total sales volume.

“For the last few years, the off-price sector has seen tremendous growth despite the challenges that have faced traditional retailers,” Michael Glazer, Stage’s president and CEO, told reporters on a quarterly conference call.

Gordmans saw major sales growth in its small-market stores in 2018, Glazer said. Six of Gordmans’ small-market stores saw a 150-percent sales increase after the conversion.

Approximately 60 of the original Gordmans stores were located in communities with populations below 50,000, RetailWire.com reported, and the majority of the chain's 74 conversions this summer will occur in similar markets. Ohio will gain 24 Gordmans stores (it previously had none), and Indiana and Pennsylvania will also see a major influx, Smith said.

The rise of Gordmans symbolizes a shift in consumerism, Smith said. As department stores have become less popular in recent years, the off-price concept has taken off.

“I think it’s public knowledge… the off-pricing works,” she said. “[Stage Stores] changed over a bunch of stores, it kept working. Indiana went in March, us this time, Pennsylvania is next. It’s just what’s working. I think that you’re looking at a future in off-priced and online. That’s where the future of retail is and I think they made a good decision.”

Those in the Mount Vernon store Thursday seemed to agree. Jason Gingerich, of Danville, said he liked Gordmans because of its variety and pricing. After one visit to the Coshocton Avenue location, Gingerich already considered it "preferably better" than nearby T.J. Maxx.

One Mount Vernon man, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he enjoyed the variety of plus-sized clothing Gordmans had in stock. He also praised the store’s selection of unique items; in one hand, he held a bag of Jim Beam flavored coffee beans, because “what the heck?”

“I’m finding some pleasant surprises, stuff I like,” the man said. “It has a nice blend of different types of things.”

While Gordmans brought customers to Mount Vernon this week, it also brought jobs for the foreseeable future. Gordmans currently employs 29 people, Smith said, while Peebles previously held just 12 positions. The new store handles a “higher turnover of product," Smith said, which explains the hiring increase. She told Knox Pages in March that those working at Peebles would be offered “comparable positions” at Gordmans.

It took just 10 days for Smith and her staff to transition Peebles into Gordmans. They closed Peebles officially on June 15, then worked long hours over the next week-plus to renovate the place. They were able to sell most of Peebles’ merchandise through a closing sale this spring, Smith said. Gordmans held a soft opening on June 26.

Considering the turnover that has occurred in Knox Village Square over the last year, Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony seemed centered around Gordmans’ commitment to the Mount Vernon community. Standing in front of a crowd of community leaders and eager shoppers, Smith presented a check to Mount Vernon High School for $1,000, which will be used for incentive-based learning programs.

Mayor Richard Mavis spoke honestly, and passionately, about what it meant for Gordmans to commit to Mount Vernon.

“When J.C. Penny’s announced they were going to close (in Knox Village Square in May 2018), I wrote a letter to Plano, Texas and said, ‘Mount Vernon’s a great town. We have a high-traffic area and this is a great store for the city of Mount Vernon.’ They wrote back and said, ‘We evaluate our stores annually and your store isn’t measuring up. Therefore, we’re closing it,’” Mavis told the crowd.

“When Michael’s bought Pat Catan’s and announced they were going to close stores, I wrote a letter down to Dallas, Texas. That’s where they’re located. I said, ‘Pat Catan’s has been a great store here. If you’re closing stores, we want you to open this one back up.’ They have yet to respond.

“So today, we’re here. Gordmans found their own way here. They came to Mount Vernon, Ohio because it looked to them like this was the place to be. Gordmans, thank you for identifying Mount Vernon as the place to be; thank you for having that initiative; thank you for taking over for a store that wasn’t doing quite well. We know Gordmans is going to do great. Thank you for coming to Mount Vernon, Ohio.”

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Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.