Why is it so fun chatting about old retailers? And why do malls sometimes fuel feelings of nostalgia?
Once the center of a community, the experience of going to a mall has changed dramatically over the past decades. Department stores were once referred as anchors for a reason – they attracted traffic and acted as a focal point for the trade, while an array of specialty stores filled in the gaps and added elements of surprise and fun.
“The mall – it was a destination. It was a place of activity. It was a gathering point for the community, it was a gathering of people,” said Deb Gabor, CEO of Sol Marketing, in an interview. “It was really global. You walked through the mall door, and you had sights and sounds and smells. Things to eat and things to touch and people to see.”
It was the mall of a time, as the perception and functionality of the space has changed over the years.
Yet there is still a certain sense of sentimentality about the memory of the mall experience – particularly from the mid-80s to the early 2000s. Mention the names of old retailers and people start to laugh, or say, “Oh, I forgot that store! And tell you stories about their experiences.
Just ask the writer, filmmaker and musician Michael Galinsky. In 1989, while a sophomore at New York University, he decided to make malls the center of a photography class project. He then traveled across the United States visit 15 different malls and take pictures of the sites and people he met. It was not until 2010 that he rediscovered these images, digitized them and put them online. These photos went viral and ended up being the subject of his books “Malls Across America” and “The Decline of Mall Civilization”.
“These things become central in early adulthood or late adolescence,” Galinsky said of why people have had such a strong reaction to his mall photos. And part of that has to do with a finite experience, as many retailers only existed within that very specific mall setting, he said.
And memories of the mall can lead to a strong affinity with certain retail brands, according to Gabor. Brands were able to create a holistic relationship with shoppers through “the pictures, smells, feelings, ideas, even the kind of music they played in the store,” she said. “When brands are completely experiential, I think they lodge in our psyche. When people have very strong memories of retail brands, it’s because it goes so beyond the product that these retail establishments were designed to sell. ”
While the advent of e-commerce has crept in and removed some of the need to go to a central establishment to make purchases, there is something about those past experiences in shopping malls that still occupies a central place. important place. “I don’t think anyone has cracked the code to be able to create this 360-degree environment that engages all of your senses at the same time,” Gabor said of shopping online. “As if you couldn’t feel the [purchase] button on Amazon. ”
Here’s a look back at what happened to seven retailers who were once important players in the mall experience.
1. Ko Toys
Originally started in 1922 as a wholesale candy business, KB Toys eventually grew into the second largest toy retailer in the United States behind competitor Toys R Us. At its peak, its footprint spanned approximately 1,300 mall-based stores.
Consolidated Stores Corporation, which at the time owned liquidation stores such as Odd Lots, Pic N Save and Big Lots Furniture, bought the company in 1996, then sold it to Bain Capital in 2000 for $ 305 million. Bath was accused by unsecured creditors to drain the retailer’s money as part of a dividend recapitalization deal, a complaint dismissed by the private equity firm.
The toy company filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and closed about half of its stores. A subsidiary of Prentice Capital Management – the company that bought KB Toys out of bankruptcy – has invested $ 20 million in the business and extended a $ 25 million line of credit. But, the retailer eventually returned to Chapter 11 in 2008. The following year, Toys R Us acquired KB Toys’ intellectual property.
2. Merry Go Round
If you’ve been looking for trendy teenage clothes, you’ve probably stopped by Merry Go Round. Founded in 1968 as a jeans store, the company has grown to sell clothing in a number of categories including prom dresses and has even gone public in 1983. But, the company missed a number of fashion trends in the early ’90s as it aggressively expanded its presence, in part through the acquisition of the Chess King menswear store in 1993. Merry Go Round filed for bankruptcy in 1994 and, in 1996, began to shut down all its stores.
Dallas-based specialty retailer opened its first store in 1983 and was known for its casual clothes, accessories and shoes for men and women. He was also known to have placed a Volkswagen Beetle in every store to suit the ambience of the late 1960s. and worn brands like Dr Martens, XOXO and Calvin Klein.
In about six years, the company more than doubled the size of its stores from 183 to over 400, and eventually focused solely on women’s clothing.
The company filed for bankruptcy three years after the rapid expansion of his store. Upon filing, CEO Jerry Szczepanski said: “We regret that this action was necessary after so many years of positive results, but our transition to an all-female format now requires us to focus our resources on continuous improvement. of our concept. “
Then, in February 2005, Gadzooks announced that he was in the process of acquisition by Forever 21, which included all of its operating assets and 243 stores. At the time of the transaction, Forever 21 had $ 640 million in annual sales.
4. The Limited
Mall retailer The Limited helped define casual fashion and work wear in the 80s and 90s.
The retailer was designed by Les Wexner of renowned L Brands, who founded the company in 1963, and even sold clothes in the first Limited store. By the mid-90s, the company had more than 700 sites and spin-offs: Express and Limited Too. He also had sister brands in Abercrombie & Fitch, Lerner New York and Lane Bryant.
The Limited’s offerings have changed over the years as Wexner shifted focus and eventually sold some of its brands. In 2007, The Limited was sold to Sun Capital, which invested $ 50 million and set up a $ 75 million credit facility. A decade later, the company close all its stores and move online. In the same year, The Limited became a exclusive clothing line in Belk department stores.
5. Sharper image
There was always a chance to get a friend or family member to go to the mall by promising to go through Sharper Image. (It was always about those massage chairs, wasn’t it?)
Founded in 1977, the retailer was known for its collection of weird and fun gadgets, especially its Ionic Breeze air purifier. In 2008, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and liquidated its footprint of more than 180 stores after plummeting sales. In a interview with Inc., founder Richard Thalheimer explained that Apple has started to be the cool place to try tech in the mall. “We have been lulled into a period of complacency because of the success of the Ionic Breeze,” he told the publication.
The company relaunched in 2010, and its Sharper Image website and catalog – which still exist today – are owned and operated by private equity firm Camelot Venture Group. In a separate agreement, ThreeSixty Group purchased the rights to manufacture branded products under the Sharper Image name for $ 100 million in 2016, which can be found in Target, Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, as well as on its website and its catalog.
6. Sam Goody
What better way to go out in a mall than flipping through a bunch of albums? Where to do these tapes? Where to make these CDs?
Sam Goody has been a staple in mall life for decades. Based in 1951 by Sam “Goody” Gutowitz, the original location was a record store in New York City. Much of Gutowitz’s sales were made through a mail order catalog at discounted prices. Gutowitz then established a chain of record stores, but in 1959 creditors took over the business in order to collect $ 2.4 million in debt.
Over the following decades, the company changed hands and was eventually taken over by The Musicland Group. In the early 2000s, Best Buy bought Musicland for almost $ 700 million, only to sell it a few years later to private equity firm Sun Capital Partners. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and has since closed most of its stores, although two still exist.
7. Wet seal
In 2014, Wet Seal announced that he was closing its brand Arden B, which at the time operated 54 stores in shopping centers. These locations have moved to Wet Seal and Wet Seal Plus stores.
“We are making progress on our strategic plan to improve Wet Seal’s product, merchandising, customer engagement and overall store performance, as well as drive the growth of our e-commerce business,” said the CEO John Goodman in a statement at the time. “It is important to note that our transition strategy for Arden B accelerates our opportunity to expand into the more growing junior market.”
In 2015, the retailer had lost over $ 150 million over the previous two years and defaulted on $ 27 million in senior convertible notes. That same year, the retailer closed a majority of its stores and in a few weeks filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In three months, the private equity firm Versa Capital Management acquired the company for $ 7.5 million in cash for unsecured creditors and $ 10 million in exit financing, as well as an agreement to take over a $ 20 million bankruptcy financing commitment from B. Riley and pay fees of $ 625,000.
The tide turned again in 2017 for the retailer when it filed for bankruptcy for the second time in just 25 months. Another company, Gordon Brothers, bought it with a $ 3 million offer at its bankruptcy auction.
The retailer currently has an online operation, but does not operate any physical store.