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15 Once-Mighty Retailers: Where Are They Now?

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

spinner image group of customers in a hechts store gather around a television to watch president john f kennedy in this nineteen sixty two photo
Customers watch President John F. Kennedy on televisions at Hecht's Department Store in 1962.
Glasshouse Images / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

1. Blockbuster

spinner image outdoors store front view of a blockbuster video retail store
Andrew H. Walker/Getty

Established: 1985

What happened: Netflix. While the video-rental chain dominated the '90s, crushing all mom-and-pop shops, it failed to keep up with industry changes. Netflix came on the scene in 1997 as a DVD-by-mail rental service, which took Blockbuster five years to replicate. Then, Netflix moved on to streaming, and Blockbuster buckled. It filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and officially shut down in 2014.

Current status: The last Blockbuster still stands in Bend, Oregon, but it operates independently and is not a part of Blockbuster LLC, now owned by Viacom. Got it? Even more confusing, the famously funny tweets that come from @loneblockbuster, which portrays itself as “The Last Blockbuster,” don’t actually originate from the Oregon video store. On the other hand, the Oregon Blockbuster has survived the pandemic, and has managed to keep all its staff employed.

2. Tower Records

spinner image photo from the year two thousand six of fans lining up outside a tower records store in a city at night
Stephen Lovekin/Getty

Established: 1960

What happened: No digital; no sales. Tower Records ruled the retail music business from the ‘70s through most of the '90s, with some of the industry's biggest stars — including Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Elton John — frequenting its stores and pushing its slogan, “No Music, No life.” Unfortunately, it was already struggling with debt when record sales began to plunge and consumers increasingly turned to online sources for music. In 2004, Tower Records filed for bankruptcy, and in 2006, digital technology officially killed the record store megachain in the U.S.

Current status: A few stores are still around outside the U.S., in Ireland and Japan, including a nine-story Tower Records in Tokyo, owned by franchisees. And you can still order albums (vinyl and cassettes) and merchandise online at

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3. Toys R Us

spinner image the front of a toys r us store showing its sign with a large closing sign under it and two shoppers walking in with carts
Tim Boyle/Getty

Established: 1957

What happened: Toys R Us didn't grow up to keep pace with its changing industry. As the toy giant took on more and more debt, it didn't work on improving the in-store experience and couldn't compete against the rise of big-box stores such as Walmart and Target and online retailers like Amazon. Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and closed its stores in 2018.

Current status: Not giving up. The brand's parent company, Tru Kids, opened a couple of new stores in the U.S. that aimed to offer a more modern shopping experience, but those closed in January 2021. You can still be a Toys R Us kid online at; the site redirects you to when it's time to purchase.

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4. Fotomat

spinner image old photo of a colorful fotomat kiosk in a parking lot back in nineteen eighty three
Jim Fiora / Alamy Stock Photo

Established: 1965

What happened: Fotomat's business seemed picture-perfect in the '70s, when customers enjoyed the efficiency of dropping off their film for overnight development at a golden-hutted kiosk, located conveniently in a parking lot near you. But one-hour photo processing and then digital photography drove out the need for the drive-through developer. By 1990, only about 800 huts remained, down from a peak of 4,000. Fotomat officially closed in 2009.

Current status: Remembered in the still frames of our minds.

5. RadioShack

spinner image close up shot from the group of peoples legs moving past a radio shack storefront on a city sidewalk
Spencer Platt/Getty

Established: 1921

What happened: Once the go-to spot for CB radios and other hot gadgets of the day, RadioShack failed to keep its inventory fresh or its shopping experience up to date, as electronics retailers like Best Buy and then Amazon increasingly ate up market share. The retailer filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and again in 2017, when it closed most of its stores.

Current status: You can still buy batteries, radios, robotics kits and other specialized electronic equipment online or at nearly 500 locations in the U.S., many of which are dubbed Radio Shack Express and located inside a HobbyTown.

6. Gadzooks

spinner image shot of a gadzooks store in an indoor shopping mall with a few shoppers walking by

Established: 1983

What happened: A top stop for teenage mall rats of the '80s and '90s, Gadzooks was a popular supplier of the era's fashion trends, including Doc Martens footwear, baggy JNCO pants and No Fear T-shirts. As years passed, consumer tastes changed, and this store fell out of style. The retailer filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and, in 2005, was acquired by Forever 21, which absorbed its inventory and shut down its stores.

Current status: Defunct. (Forever 21 lives on, despite its own bankruptcy filing in 2019.)

7. Woolworth

spinner image nineteen sixty seven photo of a f w woolworth store facade with shoppers walking in front of it on the sidewalk
George W. Hales/Getty

Established: 1879

What happened: The original discount retailer, Woolworth sold a variety of items, from drinking cups to purses to baseballs (all in the first store's opening inventory), and offered a lunch counter for hungry shoppers. The five-and-dime stores — so called because, originally, all items cost 5 cents or 10 cents apiece — closed up shop in 1997, once its general-store business model was being rapidly taken over for the modern age by dollar stores, drugstores and the likes of Walmart and Amazon. At the time, the company opted to focus on its footwear stores, Foot Locker (which is still hanging on) and Kinney Shoes (which is now closed, too).

Current status: Resting in peace.

8. The Sharper Image

spinner image a small robot tyrannosaurus rex toy stands on top of the sharper image logo painted on a floor in a store
Stuart Ramson/AP Images for Sharper Image

Established: 1977

What happened: If you ever walked through a mall in the '80s, '90s or early '00s, you've probably tried out a massage chair at the Sharper Image. Home to many gadgets you never knew you needed (a sports team hover helmet for your desk, bulletproof raincoat or face massager, for example), the niche consumer electronics retailer succeeded in the '80s, but began foundering in the '90s. Some key products, including the Razor scooter, helped to revive the company over the years. But its development of a failed air purifier ultimately did the company in. It declared bankruptcy and closed all stores in 2008.

Current status: A group of private investors bought and relaunched the brand in 2009, without the brick and mortar. You can still buy Sharper Image merchandise online and through its catalog and third-party partners, including Target.

9. Borders Group

spinner image scene of a shopper walking in a bookstore with a rack of shopping bags in the foreground

Established: 1971

What happened: Along with Barnes & Noble, the big book retailer crushed mom-and-pop bookshops with its mega libraries until it got crushed itself by an even bigger library: the internet. Borders failed to adapt its business strategy with the rise of e-readers and online shopping. (Barnes & Noble was quicker to work on developing its site and even its own Nook tablet, and so far has survived.) Borders declared bankruptcy and was forced to liquidate in 2011.

Current status: End of story.

10. Hecht's

spinner image a rainy day street scene of a shopper hidden under an umbrella rushing past a hechts department store

Established: 1857

What happened: For nearly 150 years, the regional department store served as a mall anchor in the mid-Atlantic and Southern regions of the U.S. But amid a string of retail consolidations at the time, its parent company (May Department Stores) was acquired by Federated Department Stores in 2005. All Hecht's locations were either closed or converted into the more nationally recognized Federated brand, Macy's.

Current status: Gone.

11. The Limited

spinner image exterior view of the limited clothing store as seen in an indoor shopping mall
Paul Sakuma/AP

Established: 1963

What happened: The Limited started in the '60s as a retailer focused on (or limited to) clothing for young women. But in the '80s and '90s, the shop broadened its interests, acquiring Lane Bryant, Victoria's Secret, Henri Bendel (more on that closure later) and Abercrombie & Fitch, as well as launching Express, Limited Too, Bath & Body Works, and Structure. Ultimately, the diversification of the company's brands did not work out for the Limited. An attempt to refocus its own inventory on professional women (while Express and Limited Too took on the more casual fashion trends for younger females) failed, and it closed up shop in 2017.

Current status: You can buy Limited brand clothing online at Limited Too also shuttered its stores in 2008, but it relaunched in 2016 and offers its tween-girl clothes online via Walmart, Amazon and other retailers. The Limited's founder continues to serve as chairman and chief executive of L Brands (formerly called Limited Brands), which still owns Bath & Body Works as well as Victoria's Secret and its spin-off line called Pink.

12. Levitz Furniture

spinner image a for lease or sale sign in front of an empty parking lot and vacant store with the levitz sign on it
Justin Sullivan/Getty

Established: 1910

What happened: In the '60s, America loved it at Levitz, the furniture retailer that popularized the warehouse showroom concept. But in the '90s, consumers’ feelings faded and the company foundered. It declared bankruptcy in 1997, 2005 and 2007, before closing all of its stores in 2008.

Current status: Three strikes; it's out.

13. A&P

spinner image black and white photo from the nineteen forties showing an a and p supermarket store front with cars parked in front
Universal History Archive/Getty

Established: 1859

What happened: The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company — or A&P, for short — helped shape the modern-day supermarket, offering a wider selection of groceries at typically lower prices than the mom-and-pop grocery stores that people relied on in the early 20th century. By the '30s, it had grown into the world's largest grocery store chain, with nearly 16,000 locations at its peak. But it couldn't stay on top forever. The likes of Walmart and Aldi ate into the market share for low-cost grocers while Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and the Fresh Market catered to shifting consumer preferences for more organic and healthy groceries. A&P filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and again in 2015, before closing all its stores.

Current status: Shelved.

14. Gimbels

spinner image old black and white photo taken from across an intersection on a roof or through a high level window of a gimbels department store building on a city street showing people and horse drawn carriages in the street
The History Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

Established: 1842

What happened: In its heyday, Gimbels went head-to-head against Macy's, with both retailers boasting famous storefronts in New York City and battling for the crown of the nation's largest department store. It was even the first to sponsor a Thanksgiving Day parade, in Philadelphia, a marketing ploy to drum up holiday sales, four years before Macy's started doing the same in the Big Apple in 1924. (Philly's annual parade is now sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts.) And the retail rivalry will live on forever in the 1947 holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street (and also in 2003's Elf). Alas, there was no miracle for Gimbels; the iconic department store shut its doors for good in 1986.

Current status: Remembered fondly.

15. Henri Bendel

spinner image evening street view of the front of a henri bendel retail store with shoppers lined up outside from two thousand eleven
Charles Sykes/AP Images

Established: 1895

What happened: Once an iconic brand for high-end retail, Bendel's boasted a history of influencing fashion, claiming credit for bringing Coco Chanel to the U.S. and bringing on Andy Warhol as the brand's illustrator. But in the years since the Great Recession, frivolity has been increasingly losing favor among Americans living anywhere below the very top tier of wealth. The luxury retailer succumbed to dwindling demand and closed up shop in 2019 when its parent company, L Brands, shifted focus onto its bigger and more accessible retail brands, Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works.

Current status: Gone ... "for now."