Business

J. Crew owner files for Chapter 11

A pedestrian passes in front of a J. Crew store in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Bloomberg)
A pedestrian passes in front of a J. Crew store in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Bloomberg)

The owner of J. Crew is filing for bankruptcy protection, the first major retailer to do so since the pandemic forced most stores in the United States to close.

More retail bankruptcies are expected in coming weeks with thousands of stores still shuttered, though states have begun a staggered restart of their economies.

March sales at stores and restaurants had their most severe plunge on records dating back to 1992.

Clothing sales fell more than 50 percent that month and, in the timeline of a pandemic, those may have been the good days.

The U.S. Commerce Department reports retail sales figures for April next week.

That report will reveal the full brunt of the pandemic because by the beginning of the month, the doors of almost every retailer had been ordered shut.

The abrupt closure of stores threatens the overall health of the United States with consumers driving 70 percent of all economic activity in the country.

Hundreds of thousands of retail workers have been furloughed, meaning they’re not likely participating in the economy in any significant way.

Parts of the retail sector already were under duress before the arrival of COVID-19 amid seismic changes in what is bought and how. The most vulnerable have quickly lost the ability to pay bills and, like J. Crew, are seeking relief from creditors.

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The company’s roots date back to 1947, when Mitchell Cinader and Saul Charles founded Popular Merchandise, which sold low-priced women’s clothing.

It was renamed J. Crew in 1983 and retooled as a preppy catalog to compete with those published by Lands’ End and L.L. Bean.

It became a fashion staple by the 1990s and new stores popped up across the country.

There were 193 J. Crew stores — including one in West Des Moines — 172 J. Crew Factory outlets and 132 Madewell locations as of Feb. 1.

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