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H.C. Prange Co. was a regional department store chain begun by Henry Carl (H.C.) Prange in 1881 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The chain was dissolved and the stores converted to the rival Younkers chain after sale in 1992.
Prange was the son of farmers who had immigrated to Wisconsin from Germany following the Revolutions of 1848. Advised by doctors that his health precluded him from farming, in 1871 he began working at Sheboygan's general store as a clerk, janitor, and delivery boy. Ten years later he attempted to purchase a share of his employer's store. Rebuffed, he quit and established his own store the next year with his sister Eliza, and brother-in-law, J.H. Bitter. The 3,300-square-foot (310 m2) store located in Sheboygan was called H.C. Prange.
The store became such a rapid success that in 1898 it incorporated as the H.C. Prange Company. By 1923, a new store was built on the same site with more than 180,000 square feet (17,000 m2) making it the largest store in Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee.
Before Prange's death in 1928, the H.C. Prange Company had become a multi-million-dollar business with hundreds of employees that were referred to as "associates". Upon his father's death, H. Carl Prange, while in his mid-twenties, was given the responsibility of running the company.
Prange's offered everything from cradles to coffins and, unlike his local competition, also extended credit to local farmers and purchased their crops at harvest-time. Soon he was the preferred store for the farming community of Sheboygan. German and English was spoken by all the store's employees from its founding until 1941; Sheboygan had a large German-speaking population served by German-language media until assimilation efforts post-World War I.
H. Carl Prange's goal in 1930 during the stock market crash was to do one million dollars in the grocery business and two million in dry-goods. During the Depression, while still heavily in debt from the purchase of the Hall Dry Goods building in Green Bay, Prange acquired the LM Washburn company of Sturgeon Bay and opened the firm's third store. In 1935 a disastrous fire burned the Sturgeon Bay store to the ground. Five months after the fire a new store was built. The year 1946 saw the purchase of Appleton's Pettibone-Peabody store, one of the oldest retail organizations in the state.
Over the years more acquisitions were made by the H.C. Prange Company, and existing stores underwent continuous improvement to keep abreast of the times.
At its peak, the H. C. Prange Co. had 25 stores, 18 in Wisconsin, five in Michigan, and two in Illinois, with a total of about 2,100,000 square feet (200,000 m2) of retail space. In 1991, Prange's department store unit had sales of about $229 million. The company's largest store was in Green Bay's Port Plaza Mall. At its peak, the H.C. Prange Company also operated a chain of 20 discount stores known as Prange Way, and a chain of 106 id boutique stores. Some of the remaining Peck & Peck locations were acquired by the company after a sale by their previous owners, Minneapolis-based Salkin & Linoff in the late 1970s.
The H.C. Prange Company's 25-unit department store division was purchased by Younkers, Inc. for $67 million in 1992. Younkers also assumed about $9 million in liabilities of the division. Eventually Younkers would become a part of The Bon-Ton, which later enveloped longtime Prange's competitors Boston Store and Herberger's under the same corporate umbrella.
H.C. Prange's flagship store in Sheboygan operates today as a Boston Store, and was previously a Younkers. The building was reconstructed in 1984 after a water main break in 1982 forced demolition of the old flagship store after the building's support columns sagged. During the demolition, a spectacular fire which was likely caused by an arsonist spread burning debris from the building over a nearly mile-wide area on a windy evening, also causing damage to the St. Clement's school gymnasium three blocks southwest of the Prange's site.