The retail disaster – 36 year 2020 bankruptcies from around the globe and why they happened  

Modern-day retail is at an inflection point as retailers face struggling physical storefronts, massive debt, and inefficient operations, among other issues. The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated the fall of several retailers, which have faced dwindling sales and growing debt over the past few years as consumer preferences change.

Department stores are at particular risk, with the pandemic felling iconic names such as Neiman Marcus and JCPenney. Malls saw declining foot traffic even pre-pandemic, but stay-at-home orders further shifted shoppers to online shopping and spending cash on essential goods instead.

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In this report, we take a close look into 117 recent bankruptcies starting in 2015 and the reasons behind them. As we’ll see, Amazon is not the only reason that physical retail is troubled — mounting debt and retailers’ own missteps and lack of adaptability are also to blame, among other factors.

Here are the companies that filed for bankruptcy in 2020 so far:

Image Source: Imago Images

Bankruptcies in Q3 2020


Date: September 2020

Category/Product(s): Discount department store

Summary: New York discount retailer Century 21 will close all 13 of its stores after filing for bankruptcy in September. Its CEO blamed the chain’s demise on its insurers for failing to pay the chain $175M. National off-price retail chains like TJ Maxx and Ross, which boast much larger retail footprints, have reportedly seen growth amid the pandemic, despite the industry reliance on brick-and-mortar sales.


Date: August 2020

Category/Product(s): Discount department store

Summary: Discount department store chain Stein Mart long struggled with declining sales before it fell to bankruptcy in August. The chain had initially found a buyer in January 2020, but canceled the merger as the pandemic forced it to close its locations. The 112-year-old chain employed more than 8,000 people as of August and is set to liquidate all of its stores by the end of the year.


Date: August 2020

Category/Product(s): Men’s apparel

Summary: Tailored Brands, which owns Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, filed for bankruptcy in August. The company had been on the verge of bankruptcy for months, after sales declined more than 60% amid the pandemic. It announced in July that it would be closing up to 500 stores — over a third of its locations — and laying off 20% of its corporate staff. The company is set to emerge from bankruptcy by November.


Date: August 2020

Category/Product(s): Department store

Summary: The oldest US department store operator, Lord & Taylor, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early August and announced it would be liquidating all 38 of its stores. The nearly 200-year-old retailer was acquired by Hudson’s Bay Company in 2012 and then sold to clothing rental subscription service Le Tote for a paltry $75M in 2019.


Date: July 2020

Category/Product(s): Apparel & accessories

Summary: Ascena Retail, which owns Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant, will close more than half of its stores — 1,600 out of 2,800 locations — according to its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. It is set to emerge from bankruptcy this year, after selling plus-sized apparel brand Catherine’s. Formerly known as Dress Barn, the company was heavily reliant on sales from retail locations in malls, but saw revenue plunge in recent years with growing competition from online retailers and D2C brands.


Date: July 2020

Category/Product(s): Apparel & accessories

Summary: New York & Company parent company RTW Retailwinds is closing almost all of its nearly 400 stores across 32 states as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The latest in a string of apparel store closures, the company sold its e-commerce business and intellectual property to Saadia Group. As stay-at-home orders were enacted across the US, retailers like New York & Company saw sales plunge, forcing them to furlough workers and temporarily close stores.


Date: July 2020

Category/Product(s): Stationery & retail

Summary: Japanese retailer Muji’s US arm filed for bankruptcy in July, one of the latest victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Known for its minimalist, unbranded goods, the retailer plans to close some of its 18 US-based locations but will continue to run its e-commerce store. Its US business has reportedly been operating at a loss for the past 3 years, due to high rents and cheaper alternatives.


Date: July 2020

Category/Product(s): Kitchenware

Summary: Kitchenware seller Sur La Table filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the same week as Muji USA. The retailer will close 70+ of its 112 stores and will sell its assets to Fortress Investment Group. The company was already struggling to stay afloat pre-pandemic, as online retailers ate away at its market share and consumers shifted away from at-home cooking.


Date: July 2020

Category/Product(s): Apparel & accessories

Summary: Storied menswear brand Brooks Brothers has grappled with evolving its brand in recent years, as more casual dress styles have become the norm. After it filed for bankruptcy in July, retail management firm Authentic Brands Group and mall landlord Simon Property Group won the bid to buy out the brand by offering a zero-interest loan.


Date: July 2020

Category/Product(s): Apparel & accessories

Summary: Clothing retailer Lucky Brand declared bankruptcy in July, with plans to close at least 13 stores and sell its business to an apparel group owned by Authentic Brands and Simon Property Group, which also operate Aéropostale and Nautica. The clothing retailer saw a 50% month-over-month decline in revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic.


Date: July 2020

Category/Product(s): Apparel & accessories

Summary: Netherlands-based denim brand G-Star, which operates 31 stores in the US, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July, citing the pandemic’s disruption to its retail locations. G-Star’s CEO said that it plans to close approximately 24 stores in the US. Its parent company and web-based business will remain in operation.


Date: July 2020

Category/Product(s): Fast food operator

Summary: Pizza Hut’s largest franchisee, NPC International, filed for bankruptcy in July despite the resurgence of pizza chains amid the Covid-19 crisis. The operator of more than 1,200 Pizza Huts and nearly 400 Wendy’s restaurants, NPC has seen increasing turmoil in the past year, with a growing debt burden of nearly $1B, rising food and labor costs, and, finally, the pandemic-induced shutdowns. NPC is hoping to sell its business for at least $725M — $400M for its Wendy’s locations and $325M for its Pizza Hut stores.

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