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15 Once-Mighty Retailers: Where Are They Now?

These iconic chains are (mostly) gone but not forgotten by nostalgic shoppers

group of customers in a hechts store gather around a television to watch president john f kennedy in this nineteen sixty two photo

Glasshouse Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Customers watch President John F. Kennedy on televisions at Hecht's Department Store in 1962.

Even though consumers spent a record $638 million in stores and restaurants in October, the global pandemic has taken its toll on retailers. As many Americans sheltered in place, retail sales plunged a record $54.4 million in April 2020, and, despite several rebounds, retail sales posted drops in February, May and July of 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In May 2020, J. Crew became the first big name to file for bankruptcy protection amid the current coronavirus outbreak. Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney soon followed suit. In February 2021, the last Lord & Taylor store closed, although the company was purchased by the Saadia Group and opened an online-only store in April 2021.

Of course, retailers’ troubles started long before COVID-19 concerns began to pile on. Indeed, in 2019, more than 9,500 stores closed, according to Coresight Research. That was 60 percent more than the year before and continued a years-long trend of closures as businesses were rethinking their brick-and-mortar presence and adjusting to the ubiquity of online shopping.

But the pandemic is now really pushing the point home, and forcing retailers to use new strategies to reach consumers. A survey by Deloitte in May 2021 found that companies that allow consumers to buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS), or that offer curbside or home delivery, have fared better than those that haven’t. In particular, the survey said, older consumers like BOPIS because it allows them to support local businesses.

Which brands will make it to the other side of this unprecedented situation? Looking back to see how former big names fell from grace might offer some insight. The following retailers surely had unique struggles, but often their collapses boiled down to overexpansion, too much debt and a failure to keep up with changing trends. See what lessons your favorite retailers of the past can offer to all the businesses currently facing an uncertain future.


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