By Lenore Fedow
A Lord & Taylor department store in 1949. The retailer has plans to liquidate all 38 locations following its recent bankruptcy filing. (Image courtesy of HBC Heritage)
New York—Lord & Taylor, one of the oldest department store chains in the U.S., will soon close its doors after nearly 200 years.

Once a heavyweight in the retail space, here’s a look at how it rose to success and what led it to bankruptcy.

Lord & Taylor was a trailblazer in its heyday.

English immigrants Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor opened a dry goods store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1826.

Lord & Taylor later found success selling women’s clothing, and was notable for its fashion sense and commitment to customer service. It went public in 1904.

The store relocated six times before moving uptown into its Fifth Avenue flagship in 1914.

At its height, Lord & Taylor was a retail pioneer, introducing the concept of personal shopping and selecting Dorothy Shaver as its president in 1945, the first woman to lead a major retail store.

The company was one of the first to branch out into the suburbs and to promote American designers.

Lord & Taylor struggled to compete in a changing retail environment.

In search of success, Lord & Taylor changed hands several times.

It was acquired by May Department Stores in 1986, which was then acquired by Federated Department Stores, now Macy’s Inc., in 2005.

Private equity firm NRDC Equity Partners acquired Lord & Taylor in 2006. In 2008, NRDC acquired Hudson’s Bay Company, which also owns Saks Fifth Avenue, and put Lord & Taylor under the HBC umbrella, where it remained for more than a decade.

Once a beacon of department store glamour, Lord & Taylor struggled to compete in a changing world.

It sold its flagship Fifth Avenue store, its home for more than a century, to WeWork in 2017. Amazon moved into the building last month.

20200909 Lord Taylor flagshipThe former Lord & Taylor flagship store on New York’s Fifth Avenue, which was sold in 2018 to WeWork. Amazon bought the space last month.
While Lord & Taylor’s flagship was being sold, a $250 million renovation of neighboring Saks Fifth Avenue was underway, which included The Vault, a revamp of its basement into a swanky space dedicated to high jewelry and watches.

In 2019, Hudson’s Bay Company was whittling down its portfolio, looking to shift its focus to the more successful Saks and Hudson’s Bay.

Lord & Taylor got the boot.

The retailer was acquired for the last time by Le Tote, a clothing rental subscription service company.

Le Tote tried to revamp the brand, opening a Lord & Taylor pop-up shop and making the company more tech-savvy, but it was unsuccessful.

The retailer’s reputation also suffered outside of its sales slump.

A location in Dearborn, Michigan made headlines in 2000 when a private security guard was charged with involuntary manslaughter after using a fatal chokehold on shopper Frederick Finley, a Black man who was suspected of shoplifting. Thousands protested outside of its store.

In 2018, the retailer was in the spotlight again after an HBC security breach compromised the personal information of shoppers.

The COVID-19 pandemic put pressure on the struggling retailer.

Lord & Taylor was already fighting to stay afloat when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing the temporary closure of its 38 locations in March.

Last month, Lord & Taylor and Le Tote filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, joining heavyweights JC Penney and Neiman Marcus.

At the time of filing, its debt obligations reached nearly $140 million.

With a restructuring plan in place, the retailer planned to shutter 24 of its locations and searched for a new owner.

When a buyer failed to emerge, it decided to liquidate all 38 locations.

Store closing sales, orchestrated by liquidators Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers, have already begun.

Lord & Taylor joins a long list of bankruptcies and its demise leaves few department stores standing.

As retail titan Amazon settles into Lord and Taylor’s former flagship, the future of department stores remains uncertain.

Barneys New York, a fellow New York department store staple, closed its doors for good last year.

From JC Penney and Sears to Neiman Marcus, major players have recently filed for bankruptcy and shuttered stores.

More than 100 consumer-focused companies went bankrupt this year as of Aug., according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence report.

Of those, 85 were categorized as consumer discretionary, including department stores as well as retailers like J. Crew and Ascena Retail Group.

TAGS:   Retail
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