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Wards advises shoppers to 'sit tight'

December 29, 2000

Wards advises shoppers to 'sit tight'



By DAN KULIN / Staff Writer


Montgomery Ward will close all its stores, including the one at Valley Mall in Hagerstown, "over the next several months," company spokeswoman Joyce Pemberton said Friday from Wards' corporate offices in Chicago.

Pemberton said concerned customers should "sit tight for a few days."

"We are going to be posting signs around the stores within the next few days" to advise customers on how to deal with such matters as warranties and merchandise returns, she said.

Wards announced Thursday that the company is closing its 250 stores nationwide and plans to file for bankruptcy. The announcement caught many shoppers and company employees by surprise.

The company's Web site was broken into Friday morning by hackers who posted a bogus notice saying stores will close Jan. 15.

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Founded in 1872, Ward pioneered mail-order catalogs when it came out with a single sheet of dry good items for sale. It was the first U.S. mail-order house to sell general merchandise.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. was not founded until 1886 and did not put out its first general merchandise catalog for a decade after that.

Hope for the struggling chain had been rekindled in August 1999 when Wards emerged from a previous Chapter 11 bankruptcy, announcing a plan to revamp many of its stores.

But heavy competition - from chains such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Best Buy, Target and the Gap - proved to be too much for the veteran retailer.

Montgomery Ward CEO Roger Goddu said in a statement that weak holiday sales clinched the decision.

"You don't need to be an analyst to see that the retail market continues to be very unforgiving - in fact, it's bruising," said John Oliver, a spokesman for GE Capital Services, the General Electric subsidiary that oversees Montgomery Ward.

The 128-year-old retailer has stores in 30 states and about 28,000 employees.

The Hagerstown store opened in the early 1970s, about a year before the Valley Mall opened around it, said mall spokeswoman Julie Simmons.

The Hagerstown Wards has about 110 full- and part-time employees, said store General Manager Ron Williams.

Williams referred additional questions to Wards' corporate office.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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