Rogers Department Store began its closeout sale on Friday and will soon become a thing of the past, after 50 years as a “destination” retail apparel store on 28th Street.
Dan Hurwitz, president of Rogers, informed the store’s staff of more than 200 on Wednesday that the store was closing because it couldn’t compete successfully in the current retail environment.
It was a tough and very personal decision to make, he said.
“Every one of those people has a name and I know their name and I know their face. These are my friends. These are my family. We’ve laughed together, cried together, celebrated together and mourned together.”
Hurwitz is a grandson of Rogers founders Hyman “Hy” and Greta Berkowitz. They opened Rogers Department Store in 1955 in 3,000 square feet of rented space in a building just up the street from the store’s present location at 1001 28th St. SW. Over the years the store was expanded to 150,000 square feet over three floors. Hurwitz succeeded his grandfather as president of Rogers in 1998.
Touted as Michigan’s largest apparel store, Rogers was known for its service and broad selection of quality apparel for men, women and children. But it appears the independent department store is no longer a viable business model.
“I think we looked at our business and realized that, overall, the department store model was probably not the best long-term model anymore in retailing,” Hurwitz said. “We always knew that we would have to make a change at some point. We knew our future wasn’t going to be within those four walls.”
He said his family’s opening of Daniel’s upscale apparel store 18 months ago was the first step in that direction. The 15,000-square-foot store is located in the Terrazzo Fine Shops plaza on East Paris Avenue.
The all-things-under-one-roof department store model required a lot of back office operations and support, and at times “felt more like some kind of anchor dragging us down,” he said.
The Hurwitz family intends to establish two other specialty apparel stores for men and women and transfer some existing Rogers departments to Daniel’s or the new stores. Some 20 to 25 current Rogers employees also will be transferred to Daniel’s and the new retail stores, he said.
The new stores will be smaller than Daniel’s, Hurwitz said. He declined to specify the potential locations for the new stores, only indicating that they would be in West Michigan. He said service and quality will remain the order of the day.
“That’s one piece of business that we can still dominate in — unequaled service and unequaled quality. I’m going after the moderate-to-better market. We’ll start with a couple of stores and see what we want to do — whether we want to build more right away or take our time and move into markets in a different way.”
Hurwitz said his family has not discussed listing the 10-acre Rogers property and that listing is “not an important issue” at this time. The property is valued at about $5 million, according to the city of Wyoming.
He said Rogers was in a growth mode and doing well before the opening of RiverTown Crossings Mall in 1999. RiverTown “definitely hurt” Rogers and has been nibbling away at its business year after year, he acknowledged.
“Business kind of diminished down to really not being much at all last year,” Hurwitz noted.
Rogers actually felt the “first blip” of business change, he recalled, when Holland’s Westshore Mall opened in the late 1980s.
“We knew more retail was going to come, but I think my grandpa had the philosophy of ‘fortifying the castle.’ My grandpa was in his 80s at the time and liked the store where it was. We renovated and put another small addition on the store and customers definitely responded to that.”
It was the opening of RiverTown that really triggered the decline in business, he said. He thinks pricing at Rogers may have been an issue for the “occasional” customers that shopped there only sporadically, and they simply gravitated elsewhere as new malls and large discounters appeared on the scene.
“Unfortunately, the loyal customers we had there, while great for the business, weren’t enough of a core base to really push the business forward. Because of the competition of the malls and other retailers, it wasn’t able to grab the synergy of additional customers coming in to continue to build upon that base.”
Rogers drew a lot of customers from the metro area and beyond, and its location on 28th Street near U.S. 131 was good for its customers in Kalamazoo, Holland and Grand Haven, he noted.
“We were always proud of being part of Wyoming,” Hurwitz remarked. “Wyoming is a great place to do business. It is truly a city of vision and progress. But for our type of business, at this moment, there isn’t enough of a draw to bring in people outside the area. Wyoming needs uniqueness and needs more identity. That’s the whole program they’re working on now.”
He said his goal is to try to help Wyoming fill the void left by Rogers’ closing.