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By BOB WHITE
ELIZABETHTOWN — Unable to raise the cash needed to restructure its $9.3 million debt and stay in business, the century-old Dawahares chain filed notice Thursday it will shut down all stores by the end of September.
The company filed for chapter 11 reorganization in May and announced seven of its stores would close.
Thursday’s announcement seals the fate for the clothier’s 22 remaining retail operations, including the Towne Mall outlet in Elizabethtown.
That store was among the anchor stores at the Elizabethtown mall when it opened in 1985.
The general manager of at least one other anchor store, Sears, doesn’t believe Dawahares’ departure will hurt the mall’s overall business.
“I think their customers will miss it, but I don’t think it will have a negative impact on us, J.C. Penney Co. Inc. or anybody else here, really,” said Sandra Jewell, Towne Mall Sears’ general manager. “I’m not saying that their closing isn’t important, but I just don’t think there will be a negative impact on the mall overall.”
Jewell said Sears’ business in Elizabethtown is doing very well and attributed that success to the “kinship” and “sense of community” Elizabethtown shoppers share with the store and store employees they deal with.
Other managers of stores in Towne Mall declined to comment because of corporate restrictions on speaking with media.
Dawahares’ departure will add to the existing 11 vacancies at Towne Mall, which has just more than five dozen retail sites, according to the mall’s Web site.
Friedman Jewelers was another recent store to leave the mall. The jeweler closed about two weeks ago, Jewell said.
Dawahares was founded by Syrian religious pilgrim Serur Frank Dawahare, who moved to Kentucky in late 1907 to peddle clothes to miners in eastern Kentucky coal camps.
He sold clothes from a pack until 1911, when his first small store opened in East Jenkins.
According to the company Web site, a second store opened in Whitesburg in 1935 and a third in Pikeville in 1946. The store moved into Hazard the following year.
The store’s headquarters moved to Lexington with its first store opening there in 1961. Dawahare’s 11 children continued to expand the chain to 29 stores in Kentucky and West Virginia in late ’80s and ’90s, including locations in Elizabethtown and Bardstown.
Company president Harding Dawahare, one of three Dawahare children named after U.S. presidents, said in a written statement, “our goal was to produce and to implement a plan which would allow the company to keep the 22 stores open, and ultimately to be able to satisfy our secured, and possibly some other creditors.”
After a month of trying, closing was the only option, he said.
The closing will affect 400 employees. May’s round of closings left 107 without work.
“We are distressed — for our employees, our family, and for the thousands of loyal customers who have relied on Dawahares stores for clothing for their entire family for up to three generations. However, we hope to be able to exit the retail arena in Kentucky the way our family entered it a century ago — with dignity,” Harding Dawahare said.
Bob White can be reached at (270) 505-1750. The Associated Press contributed to this story.