It seems that every day brings a breaking news story regarding the retail industry. The same is true for the entire world as it winds its way through the current health and economic crises. But it still came as a surprise when shoppers showed up at many Lord & Taylor locations late Sunday morning and found “Store Closing Signs” posted in the windows.
The liquidation shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. The retailer has been battered by heavy debt, cash flow issues, and COVID-19 store closures. Its current owner, the clothing rental firm, Le Tote, purchased Lord & Taylor last November from Canada’s Hudson Bay Company and Le Tote has struggled to find the right recipe, and capital, for retail success. Then along came coronavirus.
Lord & Taylor has not released any statement regarding today’s mass round of closures. The retailer operates 38 stores in the Northeast, along with a few locations in the Midwest and Florida. One company official estimated that about 20 Lord & Taylor stores are now in a liquidation sale, as of today.
The designated stores are not expected to be immediately closed. Employees at some of these Lord & Taylors say that they expect to remain open, in a liquidation sale, through the holiday season. The statement seems accurate. Lord & Taylor still has plenty of excess stock of quality merchandise on its sales floors from past seasons.
There is no public store closure list but the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area appears largely unscathed, except for locations in Bay Shore, Willowbrook, and Ridge Hill. With the exception of its popular Stamford location, the stores of Connecticut, along with stores throughout Western New York, appear hard hit. Lord & Taylor’s Midwest presence is now reduced to just one Chicago store, at the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Its showcase store at Chicago’s Water Tower Place closed years ago.
The circa-1955 Bala Cynwyd Lord & Taylor on Philadelphia’s Main Line, a solid performer and a Philadelphia retail mainstay, has also surprisingly made the list.
The closing of the Boston Lord & Taylor, prominently located at the Prudential Center, comes as a surprise. It’s a Back Bay Boston landmark and is situated right at the finish line for the Boston Marathon. The retailer’s previous owner, the Hudson’s Bay Company, spent millions to continuously update over recent years.
The Chevy Chase, Maryland location appears safe, for now, and is operating in a business-as-usual format. But its neighboring branches in Fair Oaks, Columbia, and White Flint are not as lucky. The White Flint, Maryland store has stoically remained in business even though the luxury shopping mall it helped anchor was demolished years ago. A lawsuit between Lord & Taylor and the property’s owner has kept White Flint defiantly in operation over the years.
Lord & Taylor has also thrown in the towel at its far-flung Boca Raton, Florida store. Opened in 2012, Lord & Taylor Boca Raton marked a return to the South Florida market after a nine-year absence. It was intended to be the first of several Lord & Taylors that would regain a Sunshine State presence but the Florida expansion never materialized.
The sudden closing sales come at an interesting time for the retailer. Just days ago, Lord & Taylor announced that all stores have finally reopened after COVID-19 closed all locations last March.
After it closed from COVID-19 restrictions, many analysts questioned if Lord & Taylor could ever return. On May 5, Reuters reported that the retailer would only reopen to liquidate. As stores slowly came back to life, Lord & Taylor seemed to prove the Reuters report wrong. The retailer did not liquidate. Maybe that’s what makes today’s closing signs extra distressing.
It’s also unclear what will happen to the buildings that Lord & Taylor will soon vacate. Hudson’s Bay Company still owns the real estate. But Le Tote has admitted to a good working relationship with HBC and Le Tote is not bound to maintain operations.
Founded in 1826, Lord & Taylor is regarded as America’s oldest department store. It dominated Fifth Avenue with style and authority and brought its legacy to other American cities. But after several owners, along with a changing retail world, Lord & Taylor has been severely wounded. Once a retail leader, it has been relegated to an underdog status. People often like to root for underdogs but Lord & Taylor needs more than cheerleaders, it needs cash, and new merchandise.
Today’s “Store Closing Sale” signs do not mark the end of Lord & Taylor. Some of its best performing locations, such as Manhasset, Eastchester, Stamford, and Chevy Chase, are still open for business. These popular branches cater to a loyal clientele and these customers are likely to fight and keep their favorite department store alive. Hopefully Lord & Taylor remains able to keep fighting for them.
This article was updated at 6:21pm to reflect that the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania store is NOT on the closure list. A copy of the list shows 19 locations in a closure, as of today.