Ely's largest retail store and a major employer in town will close within three months.

by Tom Coombe -

ShopKo announced Monday afternoon that it will close all of its stores later this year - including one that occupies a massive 38,000 square foot building on Ely's east end.

The announcement came as the Wisconsin-based retailer navigates rocky financial waters, including a move to seek bankruptcy protection and plans for corporate restructuring.

ShopKo closed its pharmacy operation in Ely last month amid reports that the company owed $67 million to a pharmaceutical supplier.

At the time, it appeared the Ely store would continue to operate but the retailer indicated Monday that all of its remaining stores would close by June 16.

Ely's is one of several ShopKo locations in northeastern Minnesota to close, joining stores in Duluth, Aitkin, Moose Lake and Two Harbors. ShopKo has 134 stores and another 176 ShopKo Hometown outlets across the Midwest.

ShopKo and its predecessor brand - Pamida - have had a presence in Ely for at least five decades.

After operating for at least 30 years at its downtown Chapman Street location, ShopKo moved to a new and much larger outlet on Ely's east end.

The Ely store had about 18 current employees, but total employment fluctuated depending on the season. The company has released numbers showing Ely employment as high as 35 people.