Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×
Search
Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

15 Once-Mighty Retailers: Where Are They Now?

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

2ANK6J8 Customers watching U.S. President John F. Kennedy on Televisions, Hecht's Department Store, P.G. Plaza, Hyattsville, Maryland, USA, photograph by Thomas J. O'Halloran, August 1962
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

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 15:  General view of the exterior of the Blockbuster store hosting a press conference announcing The Weinstein Company's deal with Blockbuster  Inc. for exclusive rights to rent theatrical movies and direct-to-video titles on November 15, 2006 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
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

Fans line up outside of Tower Records to buy the new Pearl Jam album and the chance to win free tickets to the upcoming secret show in NYC (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/WireImage for J Records)
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 towerrecords.com.

member card

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

3. Toys R Us

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, IL - JANUARY 10: Shoppers push their carts toward a Toys R Us store entrance January 10, 2006 in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Vornado Realty Trust, which bought the company last year, announced on Monday, January 9, 2006 that Toys R Us is closing 87 stores including this location, twelve of them will reopen as Babies R Us locations. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
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 toysrus.com; the site redirects you to Target.com when it's time to purchase.

Flowers & Gifts

Proflowers

25% off sitewide and 30% off select items

See more Flowers & Gifts offers >

4. Fotomat

1983 photo taken of Fotomat drive through photo processing service in shopping center parking lot
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

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23:  People walk by a RadioShack store on July 23, 2013 in New York City. RadioShack, the electronics retailer, reported on Tuesday a wider second-quarter loss and has named a new interim financial chief. Despite the losses, RadioShack reported a rise in second-quarter sales, its first quarterly increase since 2010.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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

The Gadzooks teen retailer store in Dallas' Valley View mall is one of the 156 of the company's 410 stores that is closing nationwide. Gadzooks took a chance seven months ago by scrapping its boys clothing line and offering merchandise targeting young women. Even after filing for bankruptcy last week, suburban Dallas-based Gadzooks insists the strategy will work, with some tweaking. (AP Photo/Ron Heflin)
RON HEFLIN/AP Images

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

15th June 1967:  Well-known chainstores such as Woolworth's and Curry's abound in the shopping precinct of Kirkby New Town, Lancashire.  (Photo by George W. Hales/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
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

Sharper Image unveils its new Robotosaur at its Times Square pop-up shop launch party on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in New York City. Robotosaur changes his eye colors based on his mood and gets angry and roars if you run him into a wall. For those unable to make the trip to Times Square, fear not: items featured in the pop-up can be found nationwide at major retailers such as Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl's and others
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

Shopping bags hang inside a Borders bookstore in Washington,DC on February 14, 2011. Reports say the bookstore chain is expected to file for bankruptcy in the next few days.          AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
NICHOLAS KAMM/Getty

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

Hecht's Department store is seen in Washington Monday, Feb. 28, 2005. Federated Department Stores Inc., the owner of Macy's and Bloomingdale's, said Monday it agreed to purchase May Department Stores Co., which owns Hechts, for $35.50 per share in cash and stock, or $11 billion in total equity value. The deal merges the nation's largest and second-largest upscale department store operators into a $30 billion national retailer with stores in 49 states, Guam, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
GERALD HERBERT/AP Images

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

Exterior view of the The Limited store in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, June 7, 2007. Americans shopped hesitantly in May, giving retailers some relief from a dismal showing in April but still raising questions about how strong consumer spending will be in the months ahead. Limited had a 2 percent same-store gain, much better than the 1.6 percent decline analysts expected. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
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 Belk.com. 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

ROHNERT PARK, CA - JULY 07:  A for sale sign sits in front of a closed Levitz furniture store July 7, 2009 in Rohnert Park, California. As the economy continues to slump and more retailers are filing for bankruptcy and going out of business, massive big box stores are sitting vacant across the U.S. and are overwhelming an already struggling commercial real estate market. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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

A & P Super Market, Durham, North Carolina, USA, Jack Delano, Office of War Information, May 1940. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
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

Gimbels department store
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

FILE- In this Sept. 8, 2011, file photo shoppers gather outside the Henri Bendel store on Fifth Avenue during Fashion's Night Out in New York. Henri Bendel, known for its brown and white striped shopping bags, is closing in the new year. The luxury retailerâ  s parent company, L Brands Inc., said that Henri Bendelâ  s 23 stores and its website will shut down in January but that itâ  ll carry new merchandise during the holiday season. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)
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."