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COMMENTARY

Discount Diva: No, Bon-Ton is not back. Not really.

For all the fanfare that was made when little-known tech firm bought Bon-Ton's intellectual property, you'd think Bon-Ton came back from the dead.

It didn't.

The best way to put it is that Bon-Ton is back – but in name only.

An Indiana-based tech firm, CSC Generation, bought the department store's intellectual property for less than $1 million and used it to "relaunch" Bon-Ton online. All that really means is that CSC now owns the Bon-Ton's trademarks, logos and website address; and has slapped them onto its own online store.

Why?

Bon-Ton was an institution. It spent 120 years and billions of dollars creating its legacy and building goodwill with loyal customers. In buying and trading on the Bon-Ton brand, CSC gets a built-in following for the bargain price of $900,000.

But it's not just the name recognition. CSC also got Bon-Ton's database of 24.5 million customer records and 5.6 million email addresses. (L'Oreal got Bon-Ton's cosmetics customer data.)

It's a legitimate business practice, but it's also a lot of smoke and mirrors. When you shop at BonTon.com, you are not shopping at the same company you used to do business with.

That could be a good thing. The new Bon-Ton will have new perks the department store never had before – things like nutrition planning and travel deals. The prices might even be better.

But does that sound like Bon-Ton?

BonTon.com also offers a new lease-to-own service, where customers can purchase a product on an installment plan, have it delivered to their homes and pay it off over time. Once it's paid off, the customer can keep it or return it. That doesn't sound like anything Bon-Ton did, but it does sound an awful lot like what DirectBuy Leasing does. DirectBuy Leasing is another brand owned by CSC Generation.

And all those private label brands you could only get at Bon-Ton, such as Ruff Hewn brand clothing? You won't find them on BonTon.com.

What CSC did is common. The same thing happened with Circuit City. Remember them?

They closed during the Great Recession in 2008 and stores disappeared soon after. But according to CircuitCity.com, they're alive and well.

Does that mean the 60,000 employees Circuit City had at its peak went back to their jobs? Can you walk into any of the 616 stores they once had and pick up a new flash drive?

Nope. Chances are you haven't made a Circuit City purchase since its liquidation sale.

The store is just now getting back into the brick-and-mortar realm but, again, it's an entirely different company than you remember.

I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, Bon-Ton fans, but the Bon-Ton department store you knew is not back. Not really.

The Bon-Ton you knew is as gone as AM&As, the Buffalo icon Bon-Ton purchased in 1994.

CSC, on the Bon-Ton website, said it wanted to "save" a company that "helped shape America."

"We were inspired by the opportunity to rebuild an American Icon," wrote Jordan Voloshin, CSC's head of strategy and corporate development and the new president of Bon-Ton.

The company does plan to open some brick-and-mortar stores in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

But if you're expecting to ride the escalators on Sheridan Drive again, I wouldn't hold your breath.

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