Local boutiques thrive during challenging times

By Crystal Carter Harrell
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO – The fashion world appears to be in dire straits as big fast-fashion retailer companies file for bankruptcy and close stores down.

Stores such as Forever 21, Charlotte Russe, Dressbarn, Payless ShoeSource and Gymboree register among the many brands shutting doors, yet still maintaining an online presence.

FOREVER 21 FILED FOR CHAPTER 11 BANKRUPTCY THIS YEAR

Forever 21, the fifth largest specialty retailer in the United States, filed for bankruptcy in September. The family owned business, first introduced as Fashion 21, operated for over 30 years before making closing announcements. Out of 460 stores across the country, up to 178 Forever 21 stores anticipate closing. According to USA TODAY, 111 stores in the court records and additional locations may close. 

Locations include Avenue at Murfreesboro and Hamilton Place in Tennessee, Eastern Shore Centre and Outlet Shops of Grand River in Alabama, Lincoln Park and Loop Chicago in Illinois, Lake Charles in Louisiana and Willow Bend in Texas. Only 13 stores received a closing date of Dec. 29. Arkansas locations remain open. Holly Rutledge, Forever 21 Red store manager in Jonesboro, welcomed the announcement. 

“Yes we’re staying open for now,” Rutledge said.

Ronica Versie of Jonesboro appreciates the in-store Forever 21 shopping experience versus buying online.

“Usually when I come here, I always get great deals. I can find a really cute shirt to wear for $3. I can try my outfit on. I don’t have to deal with it coming in the mail and me not being able to wear it. It’s just my go-to place whenever I shop,” Versie said.

CNN Business reported Forever 21 was “burdened by expensive store leases, unprofitable markets and continuing disruption from online shopping.” 

GAP INC. SPLITS COMPANY IN TWO

Earlier in the year, Gap Inc. announced its closing of 230 stores and making Old Navy its own company. The separation will consist of two publicly traded companies: Old Navy and a company comprised of other Gap brands. Old Navy, named after a bar in Paris, became the first retailer to reach $1 billion in annual sales in less than four years of operation in 1997. It has grown to $8 billion in annual sales since it opened its first store in 1994, according to CNN Business. Old Navy locations continue to operate in-store and online.

Christy Harvey and her family shop Old Navy for leggings and T-shirts. For Christmas, Harvey partners with Central Baptist Church to buy clothing for orphaned children.

“I prefer online shopping, but my better deals come from in the stores,” Harvey said.

BELLABIRD BOUTIQUE CLAIMS SUCCESS

Bellabird Clothing Co. began in 2012. A sign posted on their Jonesboro location claims the business was voted best boutique in Northeast Arkansas. The store sells sweaters, jeans, jackets, dresses and more. The owner, Sydney Oliva from Batesville, expanded the business and created an online page in 2017. 

“We have been very successful in the Jonesboro area. We keep our prices affordable and don’t do a high mark-up,” Oliva said. “I definitely get more local business, especially in Batesville. In Jonesboro, I am getting to know and establish relationships, which is very nice. I love meeting new people!”

Oliva plans to grow her online business instead of expanding to more locations.

Mollie Breckenridge of Mountain Home works for Bellabird Clothing Co. in Jonesboro. She said the store offers giveaways and special promotions on social media to gain customer retention and sales.

“We do online where you can order, but I would say most people buy stuff in-store,” Breckenridge said.

LARGER CHAINS ARE FIGHTING BACK

Kohl’s began shrinking some it stores and leasing its space to Planet Fitness earlier this year. Kohl’s partnered with Amazon in 2017 to offer free returns and began a relationship with the Aldi supermarket chain.

In October, Dressbarn announced it will “begin the final stage of its planned wind down by commencing store closing sales at all of its brick and mortar retail stores.” The company sold the intellectual property assets of Dressbarn and will transition its e-commerce business to a subsidiary of Retail Ecommerce Ventures LLC.

In a press release, co-owner of Retail Ecommerce Ventures Tai Lopez said, “We believe the future of Dressbarn is bright and we are excited to grow and expand the online presence for the brand.”

Chico’s, a women’s apparel store, holds 1,400 locations in the United States and Canada. According to Yahoo Finance, the company is closing up to 250 stores beginning in 2020. However, Chico’s recently began partnerships with Amazon, QVC and ShopRunner to help turn things around.

NEXT STEPS FOR RETAIL EMPLOYEES CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE

Express Employment Professionals work with job seekers to help them find the right job for their skills and experience. 

Jonesboro Workforce Development Committee partnerships between education and industry, gives employer-driven training and arranges face-to-face industry visits. While they personally do not work with retail employees, they point them in the right direction.

“There are several great agencies that can help people find their next job that can lead to a career,” Craig Rickert, Jonesboro Unlimited director of communications said.

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