America lost a record number of household names in 2019 as store closings capped a tough decade of accelerating decline for the troubled retail industry.
No category was safe from the retail apocalypse that shuttered thousands of stores – not books, toys, clothing, shoes or electronics – as shoppers deserted malls for the ease of online shopping.
It's not just shoppers' habits that are hurting retailers. Heaps of debt, bruising competition from Amazon and crushing pressures to reduce their physical footprint forced a wave of closures, some after companies filed for bankruptcy.
The 2010s were cruel. Retailers shed thousands of stores in 2017, too, another record year of losses in the past decade.
Michael Brown, a partner in the retail practice of consulting firm A.T. Kearney who has studied the future of shopping centers, said the closings represented a changing of the guard.
“As we exit this decade, we’re really seeing the tidal wave of shift from physical to digital in many respects whether it’s physical to digital shopping or physical to digital products that are impacting what and how people are buying it,” Brown said.
Now they're headed into a new decade saddled with fresh worries, from growing consumer debt to the trade dispute with China. A significant downturn isn't forecast for the industry, but chances are the pain won't let up anytime soon for some of America's struggling chains.
The brick-and-mortar downturn is expected to continue, according to a report released in April from UBS Securities. Investment bank analysts said 75,000 more stores would need to be shuttered by 2026 if e-commerce “penetration rises from 16% currently to 25%.”
"Amazon is the biggest threat to the retail industry and as such retailers are spending heavily to keep up with Amazon," John Haber, Spend Management Experts CEO, told USA TODAY, noting "this strategy has proved deadly for those retailers that spent themselves straight into bankruptcy."
Brown said there’s been a singling out of big box stores where there used to be two players in each sector.
“We had Dick’s (Sporting Goods) and Sports Authority and lost Sports Authority. We had Borders and Barnes & Noble, we lost Borders,” Brown said. “We’ve seen a narrowing of the big box sector based on the strength of growing online but also on the growing strength of Walmart and Target being able to service those categories for the consumer.”
A decade of store closings
Here's a look at some of the biggest stores that shuttered all or nearly all locations in the 2010s, many of which relaunched an online presence.
Bebe: 180 stores
Women's clothing chain Bebe was part of the 2017 string of closings and closed all of its stores that May. It staved off bankruptcy and remains an online store.
Blockbuster: 1,700-plus stores
The saga of Blockbuster's demise was drawn out for several years. In 2010, the company filed for bankruptcy and was purchased by Dish Network in 2011, which planned to keep most of the 1,700 remaining stores it bought open. By the end of 2014, all corporate stores closed but a few franchise stores stuck it out. After two of the last three U.S. locations in Alaska closed in 2018 and the last store in Australia closed in March 2019, there's only one remaining location of the iconic franchise left worldwide in Bend, Oregon.
Borders: 399 stores
Kmart owned the bookstore chain in the early 1990s before spinning it off into a separate company. At one time, the book retailer operated more than 1,000 stores but lost business with the rise of e-readers like Amazon's Kindle and the growth of discount retailers. In 2011, the chain filed for bankruptcy protection and announced some stores would close but then ended up closing its remaining 399 stores. Borders also operated Waldenbooks, which it also shuttered.
Charlotte Russe: 510 stores
The San Diego-based mall chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early February 2019 and outlined plans to close 94 stores. After not finding a buyer for the remaining stores, the fast-fashion retailer announced in March it would liquidate its 500 stores. Toronto-based clothing manufacturer YM Inc. purchased the Charlotte Russe brand and intellectual property in late March and less than two weeks after the final stores closed, the new owner promoted a comeback. As of Dec. 27, there are 139 new stores, according to the Charlotte Russe website.
Dressbarn: 649 stores
Ascena Retail Group announced the "wind-down" of its Dressbarn stores in May 2019 and closed the last remaining Dressbarn bricks-and-mortar stores closed Dec. 26. New Jersey-based Ascena's other brands include Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, Lane Bryant, Catherines and the Justice tween brand and it sold the intellectual property assets of Dressbarn to a subsidiary of Retail Ecommerce Ventures LLC. The brand's new owner plans to launch a new Dressbarn website in early 2020.
Fred's: 568 stores
Discount merchandise retailer and pharmacy chain Fred's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2019 after a series of closings throughout the year. Before the closures, Fred's had 568 stores in 15 states in the southeastern U.S. The fate of Fred's had been shrouded in uncertainty since the company's plans to profit from a mega-merger between pharmacy giants Walgreens Boots Alliance and Rite Aid collapsed in late June 2017 amid federal antitrust concerns.
Gymboree: 749 stores
The children’s clothing retailer was the first victim of 2019 when it announced in January 2019 that it filed for bankruptcy protection and would close both Gymboree and Crazy 8 stores and sell its high-end children’s fashion line Janie and Jack, which had 139 stores. The Children's Place purchased the rights to the Gymboree and Crazy 8 brands for $76 million and is relaunching a new Gymboree.com and a collection in select Children's Place stores in spring 2020. The Gap acquired Janie and Jack for $35 million.
HHGregg: 220 stores
Electronics and appliance retailer HHGregg filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2017 and had initially planed to close 88 stores in 15 states. It ended up closing all of its 220 stores in 19 states. Today HHGregg exists as an online store.
The Limited: 250 stores
The Limited was one of the first retailers to announce mass store closings in 2017 and closed its 250 stores that January. It was formerly a part of L Brands, owner of Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works. Today The Limited is available exclusively at Belk.
Payless ShoeSource: 2,589 stores
The shoe dropped for the Topeka, Kansas-based discount shoe retailer in February 2019 when it announced plans to close its nearly 2,600 stores in the U.S. and Canada and then filed for bankruptcy protection. While all North American locations closed by the end of June, Payless lives on in the U.S. through Amazon, which is selling some of its well-known shoe brands. There also are 750 brick-and-mortar stores in 35 other countries.
Sports Authority: 460 stores
The sporting goods store chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2016 with initial plans to close about 140 stores. After attempting to restructure debt and not finding any buyers in an auction, all 460 stores shuttered in the summer of 2016. Dick's Sporting Goods bought Sports Authority's intellectual property and some leases for $15 million.
Toys R Us: More than 800 stores
Seventeen months after Toys R Us shuttered its last U.S. stores in June 2018, the iconic toy brand’s comeback continued in late November when the new parent company Tru Kids Brands opened its first retail Toys R Us store at Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey, followed by a second store in Houston, Texas in December. “These stores are fundamentally different from the Toys R Us stores that you’ll remember from the past,” Tru Kids Brands CEO Richard Barry told USA TODAY in October. “They are smaller, very immersive, experimental as well.” The new company also opened two “toy wonderlands” called Toys R Us Adventure in Chicago and Atlanta this year and rolled out a new e-commerce website and partnership with Target.
Wet Seal: 511 stores
Teen retailer Wet Seal filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2017 and closed its remaining 171 stores after closing two-thirds of its stores in 2015, the first time the company filed for bankruptcy. Founded in Newport Beach, California in 1962, it grew from a small swimwear destination to a once popular and profitable chain for trendy teenage clothes and swimsuits. Today, Wet Seal exists online at www.wetseal.com.
Contributing: Nathan Bomey and Joel Shannon, USA TODAY; Associated Press