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What Happened to These Stores That Went Bankrupt in the Retail Apocalypse?

Esther Trattner
·15 mins read
What Happened to These Stores That Went Bankrupt in the Retail Apocalypse?
What Happened to These Stores That Went Bankrupt in the Retail Apocalypse?

Malls are emptying and stores are going out of business by the thousands in a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. Already, hundreds of stores are slated to close in 2020.

Plagued by the growth of e-commerce, hasty billion-dollar mergers and other bad business decisions, dozens of retail companies have filed for bankruptcy — sometimes more than once. Not all have made it out alive.

In no particular order, here are 20 store chains that went bust in some of the biggest bankruptcies of recent years. Some of these retailers are still scraping by. Some you may have already forgotten.

1. Forever 21

A Forever 21 location in Washington, D.C.
Mike Mozart / Flickr
A Forever 21 location in Washington, D.C.

Bankruptcy filing: September 2019

Forever 21 is a cautionary tale of ambition gone haywire. The business started as just a single, family-run location in 1984 — and by 2013, the chain had 480 locations around the world.

Although it raked in $4.4 billion a year at its peak, Forever 21 burned through its money by expanding into 47 countries in just six years.

But business at the new stores was slower than expected as consumers' priorities shifted from low prices to higher quality, and as online retail competition heated up.

Pop singer Ariana Grande's highly publicized $10 million copyright infringement lawsuit against the company also had to hurt. Forever 21 is closing 350 stores worldwide, about half of them in the U.S.

2. Sears

An empty-looking Sears store in Savannah, GA
Mike Kalasnik / Flickr
An empty-looking Sears store in Savannah, Georgia.

Bankruptcy filing: October 2018

Sears was once the largest retailer in America — but it fell behind Walmart, Amazon and other competitors and entered into a misguided merger with Kmart.

When Sears couldn't scrape together a $134 million loan payment, it filed for bankruptcy and secured a new loan for $800 million. Now that it's out of bankruptcy, Sears says it continues to struggle due to "a generally weak retail environment."

The company keeps shrinking and shrinking, through round after round of store closings. According to multiple media reports, just 182 Sears and Kmart stores will be left by the spring of 2020.

In 2012, there were 4,000.

3. Payless ShoeSource

A Payless store closing
Phillip Pessar / Flickr
A Payless store closing.

Bankruptcy filings: April 2017 and February 2019

Discount shoe retailer Payless filed for bankruptcy twice — and the second time was fatal.

The company emerged from the first bankruptcy in the summer of 2017, then lost $63 million in 2018. The return trip to bankruptcy court resulted in one of the largest retail liquidations ever, with the company closing all 2,500 of its North American stores.

Chief Restructuring Officer Stephen Marotta said in a news release that Payless was "ill-equipped to survive in today’s retail environment," because it had too much debt and too many stores.

Payless locations remain open in the Caribbean and Latin America, and die-hard U.S. fans can still buy the company's sensibly priced footwear on Amazon.

4. Toys R Us

A closed Toys R Us in Waterford, CT
JJBers / Flickr
A shuttered Toys R Us in Waterford, Connecticut.

Bankruptcy filing: September 2017

Kids growing up in the 1990s couldn’t wait to get the Toys R Us holiday catalog and circle all the cool stuff they wanted for Christmas — but this tradition is mostly a thing of the past.

Toys R Us went down in flames as the third-largest retail bankruptcy in U.S. after it was battered by a leveraged buyout, crushing debt and stiff competition from Walmart and online retailers.

The toy chain held out hope that it would survive after its bankruptcy, but ultimately decided to close its U.S. locations after failing to meet holiday sales targets in 2018.

Toys R Us lives on in Canada and in countless all-grown-up broken hearts across America. In a very limited comeback, two new U.S. stores have opened: in New Jersey and Texas.

5. Destination Maternity

A Destination Maternity store in Alpharetta, Georgia
Thomson200 / Wikipedia
A Destination Maternity store in Alpharetta, Georgia

Bankruptcy filing: October 2019

When the going gets tough, the tough file for bankruptcy.

At least that’s how Destination Maternity hopes to avoid total financial ruin.

The company behind the Motherhood Maternity and A Pea in the Pod stores found itself weighed down by $244 million in debt and decided bankruptcy was the only way out. To find its course back to financial health, the retailer is liquidating 183 of its more than 900 stores in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

Destination Maternity's problems have included costly rents, online competition, falling birth rates and uncertain leadership — including five CEOs in just the last five years. The troubled company's stock has been dropped the Nasdaq Stock Market.

6. Nine West

A Nine West store in Washington, D.C.
Elvert Barnes / Flickr
A Nine West store in Washington, D.C.

Bankruptcy filing: April 2018

Co-founded by designer Vince Camuto, Nine West’s fashionable shoes and accessories became closet staples for women across America — but the brand got hammered by the athleisure trend.

These days, customers want sneakers, not sleek heels and flats. But Nine West had invested heavily in its fashion line and couldn’t start producing sneakers. Major losses ensued, and the company piled up $1.6 billion in debt.

So, Nine West went bankrupt and closed all 70 of its stores.

The company is now out of bankruptcy and has been renamed Premier Brands, which CEO Ralph Schipani says is focused on its "growing apparel, jewelry, and jeanswear businesses." The popular Nine West and Bandolino shoe brands are now owned by others.

7. Claire’s

A Claire's store in Hendersonville, NC
Mike Kalasnik / Flickr
A Claire's store in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Bankruptcy filing: March 2018

Accessories giant Claire’s once had 7,500 stores in 45 countries, according to Fortune, but rising business costs and internet-savvy teen shoppers killed the retailer's profits.

Kids started buying cheaper accessories online and at competitors like H&M.

With $2 billion in debt that wouldn't go away, Claire's filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and slashed its store count to fewer than 2,500, in just 17 countries in North America and Europe.

The company emerged from bankruptcy within months but recently has been dealing with bad publicity after asbestos was found in a children’s glitter makeup kit sold at Claire’s. Though the retailer says its products are safe, it has issued a couple of voluntary recalls.

8. ShopKo

A ShopKo store in Glasgow, MT
m01229 / Flickr
A ShopKo store in Glasgow, Montana.

Bankruptcy filing: January 2019

Ignoring shopping trends is a terrible idea, as ShopKo found out.

In the 1980s, ShopKo was the go-to discount retailer in America's heartland for everything from groceries to medicine, glasses and even shoes. The company made an impressive $1 billion in sales annually — until Walmart moved in on its small-town turf.

As it tried to deal with that competition, ShopKo fatally ignored e-commerce and doubled its footprint in even smaller towns instead. By the time the retailer filed for bankruptcy, it owed $10 billion but had less than $1 billion in assets.

In the bankruptcy filing, CEO Russell Steinhorst wrote that having "higher expenses than web-based retailers" and being unable to sell pharmaceuticals at cut-rate prices like Walmart led to Shopko's demise.

9. David’s Bridal

A David's Bridal store sign in Coral Gables, Florida.
Phillip Pessar / Flickr
A David's Bridal store sign in Coral Gables, Florida.

Bankruptcy filing: November 2018

David’s Bridal had a winning business model making fairytale wedding-dress dreams come true at rock-bottom prices — until e-commerce horned in.

David's sold standard-sized gowns starting at $50. The "Walmart of bridal" cornered the market for shoppers of modest means with no time for the repetitive fittings common in the bridal biz.

“We did no alterations, and if anyone needed a bobby pin we would charge them for it,” former owner Phil Youtie told The New Yorker. But the bridal chain's unique, no-frills experience couldn’t overcome online competition, crippling debt, and millennials' growing taste for casual wedding dresses.

With the bankruptcy now behind it, David's continues to operate about 300 stores.

10. Rockport

A Rockport store in Rhode Island
John Phelan / Wikipedia
A Rockport store in Rhode Island.

Bankruptcy filing: May 2018

Carving out a niche wasn’t enough to save Rockport from retail-mageddon.

Rockport invented the "walking shoe" — and in a genius marketing move, sold America on the idea that walking was better exercise than running. The company spent millions on engineering its light and sturdy RocSport line, considered by some experts to be the first real "high-tech shoe.”

But in 2015, corporate owner Adidas sold Rockport to a private equity firm. Because cutting ties with Adidas was more expensive than it expected, and with online competitors nipping at its heels, Rockport filed for bankruptcy in 2018.

All 27 of the company's retail stores were put out of business. Rockport now sells its shoes strictly online or through other retailers, like Macy's.

11. Gymboree

A Gymboree store going out of business in Miami, FL
Phillip Pessar / Flickr
A Gymboree store going out of business in Miami.

Bankruptcy filings: June 2017 and January 2019

Kids’ merchandising was all fun and games until Instagram turned the tables.

Social media damaged Gymboree’s appeal amid the "mini-me" trend popularized by celebrities like Kim Kardashian, who dress their kids in tiny versions of their own outfits.

With parents actively shopping for Instagrammable clothes, Gymboree’s cutesy kidswear was just “too cheesy and not trendy enough,” according to one customer review on Influenster.com.

After a horrible 2018 holiday shopping season, Gymboree filed for bankruptcy for the second time in two years and closed more than 800 stores. Rival The Children’s Place bought Gymboree’s brand for $76 million, and Gap Inc. snapped up its higher-end line, Janie and Jack, for $35 million.

12. Charlotte Russe

A Charlotte Russe store
Mike Mozart / Flickr
A Charlotte Russe store.

Bankruptcy filing: February 2019

Unlike businesses that didn’t get the memo on online shopping trends, fashion powerhouse Charlotte Russe ran its brick-and-mortar and web stores for years before caving to crippling debt.

The company also lost its way with its primary customers: teen girls and women in their 20s.

In its bankruptcy filing, Charlotte Russe said it “failed to connect” with young shoppers and couldn’t "outpace the rapidly evolving fashion trends."

Charlotte Russe closed all 512 of its U.S. stores — and then it was bought by a Toronto-based company. The new owners have launched what they describe as "a brand new online shopping experience" and have reopened more than 100 of the retail locations.

13. Mattress Firm

A Mattress Firm store in Mansfield Center, CT
JJBers / Flickr
A Mattress Firm store in Mansfield Center, Connecticut.

Bankruptcy filing: October 2018

Fewer shoppers are trying out mattresses in-store — and that has meant many sleepless nights for executives at Mattress Firm.

Nowadays, when consumers want to buy a new mattress, many order from online retailers offering impossible-to-beat yearlong trial periods and money-back guarantees.

Despite slowing sales, Mattress Firm ignored online shopping trends and bought up competitors by the bushel. The 700-store chain became a 3,500-strong empire in just five years.

The hasty expansion and — according to a lawsuit, two greedy executives — drove the company into bankruptcy. After closing about 700 locations, Mattress Firm continues to battle growing online competitors like Casper, Leesa and Tuft & Needle.

14. BCBG

A BCBG Max Azria store, Toronto, Canada
Saku Takakusaki / Flickr
A BCBG Max Azria store in Toronto, Canada.

Bankruptcy filing: February 2017

With celebs like Angelina Jolie and Victoria Beckham strutting their stuff in BCBG Max Azria’s party dresses, the fashion house grew a global following in the 1990s and early 2000s, and 550 BCBG stores popped up around the world.

But the party ended as online retail exploded and shopping-mall shopping imploded. BCBG also had trouble competing with rivals such as H&M and Zara that were quicker to respond to Insta-fashion’s lightning-fast influence on consumers’ minds and wallets.

Saddled with up to $1 billion in debt, BCBG filed for bankruptcy and closed 120 stores, mostly in the U.S. The company was bought up by Marquee Brands, the owner of other luxury names including Ben Sherman clothing and Bruno Magli shoes.

BCBG wasn't ready to get off the catwalk — it opened a new store in New York’s trendy SoHo neighborhood in August 2018. At that time, there were 43 U.S. stores and 50 locations abroad.

15. Diesel

Diesel flagship store that is now closed. New York, NY
Steven Pisano / Flickr
Diesel flagship store that is now closed in New York.

Bankruptcy filing: March 2019

Back in 1998, a Wall Street Journal headline said it all: “Diesel Is the Label of the Moment, But Not Everyone Can Afford It.” Despite Diesel’s amazing success over the years, its problem with being too pricey never went away.

Diesel’s fashion-meets-urban aesthetic made the brand iconic in trend-setting cities like New York and London and sold enough luxury jeans to put CEO Renzo Rosso on the Forbes billionaire list.

But the 2008 downturn and Amazon’s upswing left Diesel's high-end stores hemorrhaging money. In its bankruptcy filing, Diesel’s U.S. branch also cited theft and fraud resulting in $1.2 million losses over three years.

The company has indicated it's closing some of its 28 U.S. stores, but it hasn't said how many.

16. Things Remembered

A Things Remembered store's going out of business signs in Waterford, Connecticut.
JJBers / Flickr
A Things Remembered store's going out of business signs in Waterford, Connecticut.

Bankruptcy filing: February 2019

Things Remembered was the place at the mall where you'd go to buy greeting cards and cutesy gifts — but shoppers decided they just weren’t impressed with the merchandise anymore.

According to recent customer complaints, the retailer sells “things best forgotten” that belong in the trash. Ouch.

The gift shop’s business was in an all-out freefall since 1990, despite multiple buyouts and efforts to rebrand.

By the time it went bankrupt, Things Remembered had lost half of its 800 stores and was drowning in $144 million of debt. Most of the remaining locations shut down amid the bankruptcy. A new owner is keeping the chain going with just 176 stores.

17. Fred’s

A sale advertisement from Fred's, 2011
Julie & Heidi / Flickr
A sale advertisement from Fred's, 2011.

Bankruptcy filing: September 2019

The only thing deeper than Fred’s discounts was the trouble it fell into when it tried to step up to the big leagues.

At one time Fred’s operated nearly 700 discount stores and almost 350 pharmacies, mostly in the southeastern U.S. The chain was like a small Walmart — but it simply couldn’t compete with the behemoth retailer.

When its earnings slid, Fred’s refocused on its pharmacies and tried to snap up 865 Rite Aid stores when Walgreens and Rite Aid attempted to merge. But after that deal fell through, Fred's couldn't recover.

The company filed for bankruptcy and announced it would go out of business. “Despite our team’s best efforts, we were not able to avoid this outcome,” CEO Joe Anto said, in a statement.

18. Bon-Ton

A Bon-Ton store in Hamden, CT
Mike Mozart / Flickr
A Bon-Ton store in Hamden, Connecticut.

Bankruptcy filing: February 2018

As shopping centers transformed into ghost towns, anchor retailers like Bon-Ton saw their customers vanish.

In the 1980s, business was bopping for Bon-Ton, and the company bought up similar department store chains by the dozen, including regional favorites Bergner’s, Boston Store, Younkers, Elder-Beerman and Carson's.

But while Macy's expanded its website and other mall-based competitors embraced the internet age, Bon-Ton’s disconnected stores couldn’t hack it.

After 120 years in business, Bon-Ton filed for bankruptcy and liquidated the last of its stores. But the brand now has a new owner which has relaunched Bon-Ton's websites and has even reopened one of the Carson's stores in suburban Chicago.

19. True Religion Apparel

A True Religion Brand Jeans store
Mike Mozart / Flickr
A True Religion Brand Jeans store.

Bankruptcy filing: July 2017

With beauty bloggers and style mavens hailing athleisure as "the best thing that’s ever happened to women’s fashion," designer denim retailer True Religion Apparel faced a losing battle.

By the mid-2010s, True Religion's jeans — priced from $99 to $299 — couldn’t satisfy consumers who wanted low-cost, comfy-chic leggings. And the company couldn’t begin to compete with fast-fashion retailers like H&M selling skinny jeans for $10 and up.

True Religion’s sales fell and its debts mounted. The company filed for bankruptcy and closed 27 of its roughly 140 stores.

True Religion emerged from bankruptcy within a few months, and its website now features jeans selling at largely discounted prices. It's still facing stiff competition from the likes of Levi’s, Madewell and American Eagle.

20. RadioShack

Another RadioShack closing in South Beach
Phillip Pessar / Flickr
Another RadioShack closing, in South Beach, Miami.

Bankruptcy filings: February 2015 and March 2017

RadioShack celebrated its 98th birthday in 2019 — leaving Americans shocked that it was still alive.

The electronics chain is just a shadow of the pioneer it once was. In 1977, RadioShack sold the TRS-80, one of the first PCs on the market, and it jumped the curve with its “RadioShack Computer Camp” for youngsters.

The company reportedly had more than 7,400 stores in the mid-2000s, but its late move toward online sales and its inability to compete with big-box electronics retailers led to a painful decline and bankruptcy — times two.

After the second one, RadioShack closed nearly all of its company-owned stores. The brand is now sold at about 500 franchise locations and at “RadioShack Express” stores within HobbyTown stores.