Retail casualties continue to mount as the pandemic shows no sign of slowing down in the United States. On Sunday, the parent company of Lord & Taylor announced that it would file for bankruptcy protection and close 19 stores in an effort to “maximize the value of its business.”
Two Massachusetts stores will be shuttered as a result: the store at the Prudential Center in Boston and the location at the Natick Mall. The Boylston Street store was the first in Massachusetts and opened in The Shops at Prudential Center in 1968. On its website, the company said that it is having store closing sales at both locations. Lord & Taylor stores will remain open at the Burlington Mall and South Shore Plaza.
In the filings, Lord & Taylor’s owner, the subscription clothing rental company Le Tote Inc., said that it was looking for buyers for both brands. In a note to customers on its website, the company said it was undergoing a “search for a new owner that believes in our legacy and values.”
It’s a disappointing turn of fortunes for the two brands, which had been hoping to create a symbiotic relationship between the old and new fashion eras. When Le Tote purchased the 194-year-old department store last year for $100 million, it became the first digitally native company to acquire an established brick-and-mortar retailer. It had recently opened a Le Tote rental studio inside its Prudential Center store.
But COVID-19 served to stifle any potential in the partnership. Subscription clothing rental companies have taken a huge hit as quarantine mandates upended the need to rent work wardrobes or formal wear. And department stores, which were already slipping into obsolescence before COVID, have seen their relevance fade further amid the pandemic, as shoppers have turned increasingly to e-commerce to scratch the shopping itch — often ordering directly from a brand’s website or seeking out deals from off-price retailers.
Late last month, analysts at UBS signaled the death knell for department stores.
“Brands should plan for a future that does not rely on department stores or malls to help generate traffic or drive growth,” a UBS analyst team led by Jay Sole wrote. “The ideal business model will be one where a brand can profitably sell directly to consumers either online or in-store.”