NEW YORK — Schuette’s Department Store, one of the oldest family-owned retail companies in the U.S., is closing its doors after 145 years as a fixture in downtown Manitowoc, Wis.
It will begin a going-out-of-business sale Thursday.

Schuette’s president, Peter Burback, said the difficult retail environment and increased number of regional malls and department store chains, as well as changing customer demographics, are forcing the store to close.

“We have tried everything to keep the store going, but we have reached the point that we are burning up assets just to keep up with the bills,” Burback said. “We have to stop the bleeding.”
Schuette’s occupies a 40,000-square-foot building in Manitowoc, which is on Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Green Bay. It was founded in 1849 by John Schuette Sr. and has been in the hands of the Schuettes ever since.

Burback and his wife, Catherine, acquired the store two years ago. She is a stepdaughter of August Schuette, its previous president.

The company, mainly a moderate-price retailer, tried to lure a younger customer back to the downtown area by adding a gourmet coffee bar, a gift shop and a new lingerie department. Burback and his family and friends, working up to 80 hours a week, also refurbished the entire store by themselves, replacing the tin ceilings and putting in a men’s shop that “borrowed from the style of Polo/Ralph Lauren,” he said.

“But it wasn’t enough,” he said. “Downtowns aren’t what they once were, and it’s hard to compete today. Also, stores like Wal-Mart, Kmart and ShopKo, as well as Younkers and Penney’s, have taken away a lot of our business.”

He added that the option of filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy to reorganize would just be postponing the inevitable.

About 40 people will lose their jobs.

The liquidation is being conducted by Fox Promotions of Cranford, N.J., and will last until all inventory and store fixtures are sold.

“Unfortunately, the competitive disadvantages faced by independent department stores have caused yet another family business to cease operations,” siad Mark McMahan, Fox’s Midwest regional manager. “Stores like Schuette’s are forced to compete in a retailing environment where there are too many stores in the same market. They are unable to buy goods at the same prices as larger chains.”