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Discount Diva: How we fell out of love with Claire's

Samantha Christmann

Claire’s declared bankruptcy last week, and I can’t tell you the last time I’ve visited one of its stores.

Actually, yes I can. It was nearly six years ago, when we got my daughter’s ears pierced. That’s a bad sign, considering both my girls are the jewelry and accessories retailer’s prime demographic.

The chain is a mainstay in malls – and we all know how malls are doing. To reach more off-mall, brick-and-mortar customers, it struck a deal in 2014 to put Claire’s store-within-a-store departments in some Toys R Us locations. Yep, Toys R Us, which filed for bankruptcy protection in September and announced it would liquidate stores earlier this month.

Claire’s is bankrupt because the company never recovered from the debt it amassed during its leveraged buyout in 2007. But customers started falling out of love with it a long time ago.

Claire’s was once a tween wonderland filled with candy colored jewelry, hair accessories and girly tchotchkes you couldn’t find anywhere else.

Now, you can find the same inventory (only more, better and cheaper) at off-mall stores such as Five Below, which has everything from flippy-sequined pillows to five-packs of dreamcatcher chokers for $5 or less.

At Claire’s, the quality is not great, and the prices are high – something we know now that we can buy the same sparkly unicorn earrings or plastic panda purses on Amazon (probably from the same Chinese manufacturers) for half the price.

Still, you’d think Claire’s would at least have the market cornered on earrings, its signature product.

Not the case. Their cheapest pair of single earrings is a plain pair of faux pearls for $3.99. If you want to move up to something cool like an Easter bunny wearing glasses, it’s going to cost you $6.99 or more.

But fast-fashion retailers can do much better. Forever 21 has trendy feathers and metallic pineapples for $1.90. Speaking of faux pearls, it has a 30-pack in all different colors and finishes for $5.90. H&M has a party-themed earring 12-pack with glittery balloons and gold lips for $7.99.

Fallas, a deep discounter with stores in Amherst, Cheektowaga and on Delaware Avenue, has 20-packs of earrings for $3.99 and pom pom keychains for $1.99.

Heck, you can get all manner of sparkly, funky, glittery accessories for $1 or less at Dollar Tree – phone cases, headbands, nail polish, fake nails, phone chargers, hair ties, bracelets, necklaces, journals, toys. Some of them are even Disney or Nickelodeon branded. And at least the price matches the quality.

And the current generation’s embrace of the DIY and crafting movement can’t be overstated. If kids aren’t making their own stuff, their friends are making it for them.

Then there are the piercings.

I got my ears pierced at Piercing Pagoda as a kid, but took my girls to Claire’s. The teen workers there were lovely, but the piercings ended up unevenly matched. If you check out the reviews on Claire’s piercings, you’ll find it has developed a bit of a reputation for crooked (or worse) piercings. Many parents, who grew up in the 90s and aughts when tattoos and piercings became mainstream, now take their kids to piercing parlors and have them done by professionals at places such as Cowpok, which will pierce earlobes for kids ages 6 and older.

But, with all of that said, consumers do love one thing about Claire’s:
It’s not Justice.

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