Sale Of Wanamakers Stores Is Now Official

Posted: January 01, 1987

The sale of John Wanamaker department stores became official yesterday. Woodward & Lothrop, a Washington retailer, completed the $183 million acquisition from Carter Hawley Hale Stores Inc. of Los Angeles, both companies announced.

The deal creates a retailing company with 32 stores and combined annual sales of more than $950 million.

"Now we own it. We went through the closing and we're very excited about it," said Robert Mulligan, vice chairman of Woodward & Lothrop.

The 125-year-old Wanamakers name and much of its tradition will remain. In Center City, the flagship store will still have the big pipe organ, central atrium and the bronze eagle that symbolizes Wanamakers for many Philadelphians.

Otherwise, big changes are in the making. Woodward & Lothrop will run Wanamakers from its Washington headquarters and will consolidate many of the merchandise buying functions with its own operation there. That change is expected to cost a significant number of Wanamakers employees their jobs. Chairman Richard Boje already has announced that he will resign Jan. 31.

In addition, Woodward & Lothrop - itself owned by Detroit real estate developer A. Alfred Taubman - is expected to convert the upper floors of the Center City store to commercial office space, a move that will result in a smaller retailing area. More than $100 million in renovations is planned for the 15 suburban stores.

None of these changes will be apparent immediately. Mulligan said yesterday that the public should start to see "gradual" changes in Wanamakers merchandise around autumn. No date has been set for the renovations.

Carter Hawley Hale received cash for the stores from Woodward & Lothrop, which financed the purchase with revolving bank loans, Mulligan said. It is possible that Woodward & Lothrop will refinance the deal by mortgaging Wanamakers' real estate assets, although no firm decision has been made, according to Mulligan.

The sale marks the second time Wanamakers has changed hands since its founding by John Wanamaker, who was known as the "merchant prince" of Philadelphia.

Wanamaker's descendants, who are generally credited with less retailing acumen that their famed ancestor, sold the chain to Carter Hawley Hale in 1978. The stores, which were said to be faring poorly, are now profitable.

E. Harlin Smith, a Carter Hawley Hale vice president, said the company expected to report a modest gain from the sale.

Woodward & Lothrop has long been considered Wanamakers' Washington counterpart, both in character and clientele. The 106-year-old chain also has 16 stores, which are geared to tradition-oriented customers. Taubman acquired Woodward & Lothrop in 1984 and promptly took the company private. Although its

financial results are not released, company officials say the chain is profitable.

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