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Brooks Brothers Seeks Buyer as Wall Street Works From Home

Lauren Coleman-Lochner and Eliza Ronalds-Hannon

(Bloomberg) -- Brooks Brothers Inc., the two-century-old menswear company that set the standard for aspiring Wall Street bankers, is seeking to sell itself.

The retailer has extended a sale process begun last year, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because it wasn’t public. Depending on how many stores a buyer wanted, a transaction could ultimately be part of a bankruptcy filing, they said. The company has about $600 million in debt.

“In the ordinary course of business, Brooks Brothers consistently explores various strategic options to position the company for growth and success,” a company representative said in an email. The company has “nothing to announce at this time.”

Even as some states start to ease lockdowns aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic, it remains to be seen how quickly consumers will return to stores and how much they’ll spend. While even the affluent Brooks Bros. clientele has little need for new suits at the moment, the brand’s history and cache has elicited interest, the people said.

1818 Opening

Many of the company’s approximately 250 U.S. locations have struggled, some of the people said. It operates a similar number of stores in more than 40 other countries, according to its website.

On the one hand, Brooks Brothers customers are less affected by the millions of job losses that have roiled the country, because many can do their jobs remotely. But it will be months or even years before workplaces can fully reopen, and no one knows what routines and habits, including what people wear to work, will look like post-pandemic.

Henry Sands Brooks opened the first store in 1818 on the corner of Cherry and Catherine streets in lower Manhattan. The company, which calls itself the oldest U.S. clothing retailer, has dressed U.S. presidents including John F. Kennedy and now sells men’s, women’s and children’s clothing.

Its suits became the uniform of the Wall Street macher, but as it expanded, it opened more stores in malls and on Main Streets, some of which are dragging on its performance now. British merchant Marks & Spencer bought the company in 1988, then sold it to billionaire Claudio del Vecchio in a deal completed in 2002.

(Updates with information on pandemic in the sixth paragraph)

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