By Michelle Graff
Warwick, R.I.--Jewelry stores are continuing to close though the pace has abated from the frenetic shuttering of doors recorded in 2016, the latest data from the Jewelers Board of Trade shows.

The JBT’s latest statistics show that in North America (the United States and Canada), a total of 292 jewelry retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers ceased operations in the first quarter 2017, down 17 percent from 353 in the first quarter 2016.

This includes 229 jewelers shutting down their stores, a 15 percent decline when compared with the same period last year.

Isolating the statistics for the United States, there were 277 jewelry retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers that ceased operations in the first quarter, down 14 percent from 323 in the first quarter 2016.

This includes the closure of 217 jewelry stores, compared with 244 in the same period last year.

“I was surprised by the magnitude of the closures when we got the year-end numbers in January,” JBT President Anthony J. Capuano told National Jeweler on Friday. “I was glad to see the results (for Q1 2017), but let’s keep in mind that the trend is still for there to be fewer jewelry companies.”

The number of companies that ceased operations dropped to start the year but they still numbered nearly 300, and the number of new jewelry businesses was down as well.

In North America, 48 new businesses registered with the JBT in the first quarter 2017: 38 retailers, five wholesalers and five manufacturers. By comparison, there were 73 new businesses in the first quarter 2016.

Total listings also are down, from 29,439 at this point last year to 27,706 now, a 6 percent decline.

“The trend hasn’t reversed itself (though) the pace and the momentum that we saw pick up last year seems to have abated a bit,” Capuano said.

Another notable change in the JBT’s first quarter statistics was the rise in the number of industry bankruptcies.

JBT data shows that there were seven bankruptcies--four wholesalers and three retailers--in the United States in first quarter 2017, up from four in the same period last year. (There were zero bankruptcies recorded in Canada.)

Capuano said the uptick in jewelry industry bankruptcies mirrors the nationwide trend.

CNBC reported at the end of March that retail bankruptcies are poised to hit a post-recession high, with nine big retailers--mall stalwarts like Wet Seal, Limited Stores Co. and BCBG Max Azria along with electronics chain HH Gregg--filing for Chapter 11 in the first quarter alone, equaling the total for all of 2016.

But, he said, bankruptcies in the jewelry industry still remain well off of what they were in 2008 and 2009 at the height of the Great Recession.

As in prior periods, retailers simply closing up shop account for the bulk of the JBT’s business discontinuances, which include companies that have ceased operations (as recounted above), companies that have filed for bankruptcy and mergers/acquisitions.

“What we are seeing is a lot of the mom-and-pops just closing their doors quietly, not really leaving any obligations,” he said, adding that they are having a going-out-of-business sale and exiting the industry or moving into being part-time or private jewelers.

For the rest of 2017, Capuano said he expects to see continued consolidation in the industry.

While he hopes the slowdown in business closures will continue into the second quarter, he said it’s premature to say that it’s a trend or to determine if the industry saw the zenith of closures last year.

“I hope it (the first quarter data) bodes well for the year, but I think it’s too early to tell.”

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