Wave of Bankruptcies Will 'Remake' Shopping Malls Across the Country

Thousands of stores across the country face closure as the credit crisis curtails consumer spending, and chain retailers file for bankruptcy.

"The consumer spending slump and tightening credit markets are unleashing a widening wave of bankruptcies in American retailing, prompting thousands of store closings that are expected to remake suburban malls and downtown shopping districts across the country.

Since last fall, eight mostly midsize chains - as diverse as the furniture store Levitz and the electronics seller Sharper Image - have filed for bankruptcy protection as they staggered under mounting debt and declining sales.

But the troubles are quickly spreading to bigger national companies, like Linens ‘n Things, the bedding and furniture retailer with 500 stores in 47 states. It may file for bankruptcy as early as this week, according to people briefed on the matter.

Even retailers that can avoid bankruptcy are shutting down stores to preserve cash through what could be a long economic downturn. Over the next year, Foot Locker said it would close 140 stores, Ann Taylor will start to shutter 117 and the jeweler Zales will close 100.

The surging cost of necessities has led to a national belt-tightening among consumers. Figures released on Monday showed that spending on food and gasoline is crowding out other purchases, leaving people with less to spend on furniture, clothing and electronics. Consequently, chains specializing in those goods are proving vulnerable.

Several of the retailers that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection over the last eight months, like the furniture sellers Bombay, Levitz and Domain, have begun to wind down - closing stores, laying off workers and liquidating merchandise.

Whether more chains file for bankruptcy or not, it will be hard to miss the impact of the industry's troubles in the nation's malls. J. C. Penney, Lowe's and Office Depot are scaling back or delaying expansion. Office Depot had planned to open 150 stores this year; now it will open 75.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group, estimates there will be 5,770 store closings in 2008, up 25 percent from 2007, when there were 4,603."

Full Story: Retailing Chains Caught in a Wave of Bankruptcies

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