Last of the department stores

Shoko Hometown in Sheldon during its waning days.

SHELDON—When Millie Vos moved to N’West Iowa in 1954, she recalled Sheldon being home to multiple department stores and the city serving as a regional shopping hub.

“We had a department store, Penney’s, and they had ‘Crazy Days’ in those days and I could buy clothes for my two kids, my husband for very reasonable prices because it was from Penney’s,” she said.

“We don’t have anything like that now.”

When Shopko Hometown closed for the last time on Sunday, June 23, it marked the end of an era in Sheldon’s retail history.

For the first time since at least 1890, the city does not have a single traditional department store.

Before it closed, Shopko had some sort of presence in Sheldon via its various forms at its 1501 Park St., along the north side of Highway 18, storefront since 1976 when that location opened as a Gibson’s Discount Center.

Omaha, NE-based Pamida was an investor of Gibson’s and eventually turned those locations into Pamidas.

In 2012, Pamida merged with Shopko of Green Bay, WI, rebranding its smaller stores as Shopko Hometown locations. The combined company folded this year.

Shopko declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January after years of closing stores and shedding assets such as is its optometry services and pharmacy counter.

In March, it announced it is shuttering what remained of its 363 stores in 24 states after failing to find a buyer.

The Sheldon store, the lone N’West Iowa location, had remained open while stores in Cherokee, Estherville and Onawa and two stores in Sioux Falls, SD, closed before the entire company went entirely belly up.

Over the years, Sheldon housed numerous department stores including Ellerbroek’s, J.C. Penney, Sears, Starrett’s and Wolff’s to name a few.

Before it closed in 1998, Penney’s had been in Sheldon was 69 years and was housed in various locations.

One of Sheldon’s first department stores was Starrett’s, which was in operation 1890-1958. In the early years, the store carried “everything you might need,” according to an exhibit at the Sheldon Prairie Museum.

Starrett’s offered guests three floors to shop from and its furnishings were compared to those in larger cities. It had 35 employees in 1935 and during the Great Depression farmers were allowed to make purchases using corn.

The store was razed in a March 1958 fire, which is considered the most destructive blaze in Sheldon’s history. That incident also destroyed Ellerbroek’s, another one of the community’s historic department stores.

While Shopko’s closure leaves the building it is housed in vacant for the first time in 43 years, not all hope is lost.

Curt Strouth, executive director of the Sheldon Chamber and Development Corporation, previously indicated the defunct store’s prime location could aid in finding a replacement tenant.

“Anytime you can get a main thoroughfare like Highway 18 with frontage like that, it’s going to become a more marketable property,” Strouth said.