Ascena Retail Group, the conglomerate behind women’s apparel brands Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant and Catherines, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Thursday and said it would close at least 877 — nearly a third — of its 2,800 stores after years of declining sales and ballooning debt.
The company, founded as Dressbarn in 1962, is one of the nation’s largest sellers of women’s clothing.
But in recent years, its lineups of no-frills workwear and other basics have lost ground to a growing crop of competitors, including off-price retailers such as TJ Maxx and newcomers such as Everlane.
Ascena is closing all 264 Catherines stores, and selling the plus-sized clothing brand and its website to an Australian company, City Chic Collective.
It also will shutter more than 600 Justice stores, which cater to girls and preteens, and some Ann Taylor, Loft, Lane Bryant and Lou and Grey shops.
The chain will close its Lane Bryant location in West Des Moines as well as its Ann Taylor Factory/Loft outlet store in Williamsburg and its Loft outlet store in Davenport.
The company operates a Loft in Marion and a Lane Bryant store in Cedar Rapids, which were not on the closure list.
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The Mahwah, N.J.-based retailer also is pulling out of Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico as it tries to whittle down about $1 billion in debt.
It’s the latest retail casualty of the pandemic, following Brooks Brothers, J.C. Penney, J. Crew and Neiman Marcus and several others into bankruptcy court.
Ascena temporarily shuttered all of its stores and furloughed more than 90 percent of its employees in mid-March as stay-at-home orders took effect.
To stay afloat, it borrowed $230 million, canceled merchandise orders and stopped paying rent.
The planned closures also represent another blow for U.S. shopping malls, which already were struggling to attract shoppers and tenants before the pandemic ushered in a new wave of bankruptcies and closures.
The Chapter 11 filing comes a few weeks after the company said it would give top executives as much as $5.5 million in retention pay and performance bonuses.