From Claire’s to Abercrombie & Fitch, Where Are the Mall Stores Now?

Likely honing new store concepts and inclusive messaging or going digital-only

As Brookstone is dismantled, let’s explore 10 other titans of the mall era—and where they are now.
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The graveyard of the American mall has tombstones of many erstwhile favorites, from Sam Goody to Waldenbooks. In many cases, these mall brands survived for decades—if not a full century—before the digital revolution, mass retail and younger generations forced them to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Some didn’t recover. Many have been shuffled among private equity firms looking to sell them for parts. Still more are experimenting with new store concepts, pushing messages of inclusivity or retreating online.

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The latest victim is specialty retailer Brookstone, which helped make household names of brands like Segway, iRobot and Fitbit. Last week, the chain announced it is closing all 101 mall stores and seeking a buyer for what’s left: 35 U.S. airport locations and its ecommerce and wholesale businesses.

“The decision to close our mall stores was difficult, but ultimately provides an opportunity to maintain our well-respected brand and award-winning products while operating with a smaller physical footprint,” said Brookstone CEO Piau Phang Foo in a statement. Brookstone struck an agreement with Wells Fargo Bank and advisory, restructuring and investment firm Gordon Brothers Finance Company, the latter of which has become a vulture in private equity, of sorts.

As Brookstone is dismantled, let’s explore 10 other titans of the mall era—and where they are now.

Abercrombie & Fitch

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Abercrombie & Fitch was founded as an outdoor retailer in 1892. That was largely its bread and butter until fashion holding company L Brands bought the brand, which included 25 stores and a catalog, in 1988. When CEO Mike Jeffries joined in 1992, it ushered in an era in which the retailer wooed teens with ads Mad Money host Jim Cramer likened to soft porn. Abercrombie became one of the so-called 3As of retail—along with Aéropostale and American Eagle Outfitters—that dominated teen fashion at the turn of the century.

However, by 2013, its increasingly outdated ethos was immortalized in Jeffries’ comments about sizing—likening plus-size consumers to uncool kids who get wedgies and swirlies from Abercrombie customers—as its competitors were becoming more inclusive.

The brand issued an apology and began offering a wider range of sizes before Jeffries was fired in 2014. Abercrombie, however, arguably remains in sister brand Hollister’s shadow as it continues to close more of its 285 U.S. locations.

Abercrombie has since been working on a rebrand, including the return of its original logo in 2016. It also debuted a Gen-Z-friendly boutique concept that includes larger dressing rooms and phone chargers, as well as “shop-in-shops” like an apothecary and a denim room. Décor includes vegan leather—and the boutique is scented with “a lighter, cleaner, gender-neutral fragrance.”

American Eagle

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American Eagle Outfitters turned 40 in 2017 and is having a midlife crisis. It’s looking to the future with a new concept called AE Studio, which includes a jeans gallery and maker’s shop, an on-site social media team, free laundry and concierge iPads.

In addition, its fall 2018 jeans campaign features a diverse cast of actual customers and an employee that “reflects varied backgrounds, genders, sizes and passions.”

It, too, has closed some locations, but reports say it’s bouncing back—thanks, in part, to growth in ecommerce and investments in technology.

Ann Taylor

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Retailer Richard Liebeskind opened a dress shop in New Haven, Connecticut in 1954, which he called “Ann Taylor” after a popular dress style in his father’s store that represented his vision of “the modern, stylish American woman.” It grew to 242 full-price and 122 discount stores in North America.

“As the American woman has evolved, so have we, staying one step ahead to bring her a wardrobe of possibilities,” the company claims.

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