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Company seeks artisans, businesses in participate in 'Close to Home' initiative

Staff report

MILWAUKEE -- The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. family of department stores (which operates Elder-Beerman in Frankfort, Paducah and Ashland) plans to expand its "Close to Home" initiative by adding in-store shops to at least 100 stores this year after launching in 45 stores in 2016. As part of the expansion, the retailer also announced the launch of the new "Close to Home" Online Sourcing Fair that invites local artists and designers, makers, artisans, and entrepreneurs with established businesses and galleries interested in having their products sold in "Close to Home" shops to apply online.

Product submissions for the first "Close to Home" Online Sourcing Fair are being accepted through March 24 at closetohome.bonton.com. Interested applicants must reside in one of Bon-Ton's 25 states to apply.

The "Close to Home" shops feature locally-sourced and themed products. More than 100 small businesses from 16 cities across eight states were featured in the initial launch. For many, the opportunity to sell products in a major department store provided significant growth for their business.

"We started out selling primarily at craft fairs, farmers markets and a few boutiques, and then Bon-Ton called," said Kelley Grace Quakkelaar of Wisconsin's Gracie Designs, which produces hand-crafted wristlets and trucker hats for the 'Close to Home' shop. "It's been a significant ramping up of our business."

Bon-Ton aims to have "Close to Home" shops in at least 150 stores by mid-2017.

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