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Pandemic closures could hurt these 16 stores the worst

Samantha Christmann

In March, every store in New York State closed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Now, with the state slowly rolling back restrictions on business, some are reopening with curbside pickup and delivery.

But some may never reopen.

Others will significantly reduce their store counts in the months to come. Still others may reopen simply to hold going-out-of-business sales.

There's no doubt the pandemic closures will hasten the so-called "retail apocalypse," which is really a brick-and-mortar apocalypse. In 2019, a record 9,548 stores closed. This year will easily top that, with more than 15,000 store closures expected, according to Coresight, a retail research and advisory firm.

Shopper behavior is changing. More people are expected to continue shopping online even when stores reopen. Those who do shop in stores may want to get in and out quickly to minimize possible exposure to coronavirus. Some Wall Street analysts are calling for 100,000 stores to close by 2025.

So which stores do we have to worry about?

Bed Bath & Beyond. The homegoods retailer, which also owns BuyBuy Baby and Christmas Tree Shops (among other chains), is in the process of closing 40 stores, including one on Union Road in Cheektowaga. It will also close 20 stores among the other brands it owns.

Chico's, Soma, White House Black Market. Before the pandemic closures, parent company Chico's was already well on its way to a digital-only business model, teaming up with QVC and Amazon. It will cut 250 stores across the three brands by 2022.

Christopher & Banks. The women's clothier was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange last year and decided to focus on downsizing in favor of digital sales.  It was set to close up to 40 of its 451 stores by the end of 2020, but the pandemic closures might put an even bigger crimp in its plans.

Express. This is just one of the in-line mall stores that suffered when foot traffic in shopping centers dropped. The retailer has already permanently shuttered 31 stores this year and plans to close another 35 by January.

Forever 21. The long-troubled teen fast-fashion retailer filed for bankruptcy protection in September and closed 200 stores. In February, the retailer struck a deal with a real estate investment firm that says it will keep the remaining 450 stores open.

Gap. Even before the coronavirus troubles began, Gap announced it would close about half its stores by next year. As of January, it had closed 89 of its 230-store goal.

Game Stop. Sales were down 19.4% last year, even before the crisis. The company will close at least 320 stores this year, it said.

Hallmark. The chain has tried to diversify as society moves away from paper greeting cards and invitations, but it has had trouble keeping up. At least 16 stores will close by year's end, many of them long-standing family businesses. The most current list of closures does not include locations in Western New York.

JC Penney. If you had to bet on one store that would not make it through the Covid-19 crisis, you'd probably pick JC Penney, which has been scraping by for years. And you'd be right. The 118-year-old department store filed bankruptcy this month and plans to close some of its 850 stores.

J. Crew. The first to declare bankruptcy since the pandemic closures, J. Crew says it does not plan to go out of business and aims to emerge from bankruptcy a stronger company. Still, bankruptcy is often used to get rid of unprofitable stores. It's not clear whether the Walden Galleria store will be one of them.

Lord & Taylor. Early this month, Reuters reported that the nearly 200-year-old retailer will file bankruptcy once stores reopen and liquidate its 38 stores. That includes its Walden Galleria store, which takes up a giant, two-story anchor space and will leave the mall with a gaping hole.

Macy's. The once-mighty department store will close a fifth of its locations beginning this year. The stores at Walden Galleria and Boulevard Mall have been spared so far.

New York & Co. The retailer's parent company started 2020 with plans to close 19 stores plus some outlet locations.

Office Depot. It closed 55 locations last year and plans to close 90 more by 2021.

Pier 1 Imports. Even before stores closed for coronavirus, Pier 1 announced it would permanently close half of its 936 stores, including the one on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga. It also filed bankruptcy. On Wednesday, the company announced it would close all 541 of its stores, including three in the Buffalo Niagara region.

Walgreens. The drug store has been in the process of downsizing. While it plans to close just 3% of its stores, that still amounts to 200 of them this year.

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