Shopko faces unclear fate in Ely

by Tom Coombe -

Ely’s largest retailer faces an uncertain future as it navigates rocky financial waters.
Shopko could seek bankruptcy protection within days, according to media reports in its corporate home base of Wisconsin, and its Ely store has failed to make its monthly lease payment.
It’s not yet clear how those developments will impact Shopko’s operation in Ely, but its landlord conceded Tuesday that he has serious concerns.
“We’re in limbo,” said Bob McCullough, who owns the property where Shopko has its 38,000 square foot retail outlet.
McCullough said Shopko has “missed its monthly payment” and that he has been unable to reach company officials.
“I haven’t heard a word,” said McCullough.
Attempts to reach Shopko corporate media relations representatives were also unsuccessful as of the Echo’s Thursday deadline.
Last year Shopko announced plans to close nearly 40 stores including two in Minnesota, and a Green Bay Gazzette report Monday indicated that the company owes a pharmaceutical supplier $67 million.
In a court hearing in Green Bay, lawyers for San Francisco-based McKesson Corporation argued that the company’s ability to recover the debt would be hindered if Shopko seeks protection from creditors under federal bankruptcy laws.
The Green Bay newspaper report indicated that Shopko is attempting to sell its struggling pharmacy business as part of restructuring attempts.
It appeared to be business as usual at Ely’s Shopko location this week, and McCullough said he was hopeful that his tenant would be able to pull through.
“We’re hoping this is one of the stores that is taken over or sold,” said McCullough. “My recollection is that the Ely store is one of their better stores.”
He added “I do know that they’re shopping for buyers and I’m hoping this is one of the stores that fits. The alarming thing is they are selling off the pharmaceutical business so rapidly... I knew there would be some issues but I didn’t think it would be this quick.”
Shopko and its predecessor brand - Pamida - have had a presence in Ely for five decades.
The company moved from its downtown Chapman Street location in 2006, opening its new and much larger outlet on Ely’s east end.
Ely’s is one of about 170 Shopko Hometown outlets across the nation. The Ely store has about 18 current employees, a number that grows during the summer months. The company has released numbers showing Ely employment as high as 35 people.

File photo, 2013.