The last few years have been tumultuous for the retail industry. One after another, a familiar name in retailing announced a major retrenchment, including J.C. Penney, J. Crew, Brookstone, Lord & Taylor, and The Limited, while storied names such as Sears and Toys “R” Us went into bankruptcy.
The credit-rating company Moody’s Investors Service reported that defaults by retailers reached a record high in 2018.
But for smaller speciality retailers, this shakeout has been an opportunity. Ocean State Job Lot, a discounter based in North Kingstown, R.I., announced an expansion Tuesday that includes gaining seven former Toys “R” Us locations — including three in Pennsylvania, a new market for the company, and three in New England.
The new Job Lots are expected to open by the end of 2019, increasing the number of stores operated by the chain to 140 and adding 200 to 300 workers to the 5,000-person workforce.
Of the stores already open, 50 are in Massachusetts. They employ roughly 1,800 people.
While larger retail stores have been seeing a decline in recent years, the discount niche has seen growth. Those retailers have been performing well in the last year.
Zacks Investment Research found that the discount retail sector saw growth through 2018, and a study published by the National Retail Federation in October found that 89 percent of 3,000 US consumers who were surveyed said they frequent discount stores. About 18 percent of those shoppers live in the Northeast.
Ocean State Job Lot’s chief executive, Marc Perlman, said the company, which deals mostly in off-price items it buys from larger retailers, takes the same approach to real estate it does to merchandise. “We see our role in the marketplace as to offer value to our customer, so we’re looking for opportunities that will create value,” he said. “We take an opportunistic purchasing view of the marketplace.”
And Ocean State isn’t done growing. Perlman said it’s eyeing property vacated by companies like Sears and Kmart.
Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said there’s a glut of empty retail space in Massachusetts and the rest of the country, and that the market is wide open for retailers. “We’ve got to find some companies that can grow to lighten up what are now dark storefronts across the Commonwealth,” he said.