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Stores come, and stores go; that’s the way of the retail world, right? A new star shows up, burns brightly for a decade or so, and eventually fades away as another retail star takes its place. Other times, it’s a slow buildup to grand, widespread popularity before another heavy-hitter comes and takes its place. The end result, for far too many excellent stores, is the same. Slow business; financial woes; closed locations; bankruptcy.
Whether a store lived long past its prime or was gone too soon, we all have our memories of these stores. Some were ultimately acquired by another business to be rebranded and brought into the future; others essentially dropped off the face of the earth. With times changing as rapidly as they are at the present moment, it should come as no surprise that some stores just weren't able to keep up.
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The store most of us knew as A&P was actually officially called the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, and it’s been around for a long, long time. Or, it had been, anyway, before the store closed its final store in 2016. A&P was once the largest chain in the United States, and families across the country relied on it for groceries, freshly baked goodies, and even doctor-prescribed medications. Unfortunately, by the early 2000s, the chain was on the decline, and had to file for bankruptcy in 2010, and then again in 2015. Fun fact: Women’s Day magazine was created by A&P! There's no shortage of big grocery stores at the moment, so A&P isn't quite missed. But many of us have at least a memory or two of shopping for food in the aisles of A&P!
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For many of us, Babies 'R Us was the place to shop for baby gear. For those without kids, it was an essential stop before a baby shower and those who did have a tot relied on the store for baby clothes and toys or used it for our registries. But Babies 'R Us and its parent company Toys 'R Us were faced with financial woes with the boom of online shopping. Some of us appreciated stocking up for the future at clearance prices when the news dropped that the company was going under, but while Toys 'R Us maintained two locations and plans on opening more smaller stores around the U.S., their baby-themed chain is dunzo. It was fun while it lasted.
Growing up, a trip to the mall was never complete without a stop in at B. Dalton Books, a classy chain that used to be found in shopping malls everywhere. When at the top of its game, B. Dalton had nearly 800 stores across America. But after the peak came the slow decline, and in the '80s, B. Dalton’s parent company sold to Barnes & Noble. While the B. Dalton name stuck around for a few years, the sites slowly began closing down and the final location was closed in 2013. Physical bookstores aren’t completely dead, but B. Dalton is gone forever.
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We can blame our favorite company, Netflix, for this one. A decade ago, every teen’s ideal weekend began with a trip to Blockbuster to scour the shelves hoping to find a copy of one of the hottest new releases or video games. Sadly, Blockbuster is pretty much a thing of the past. Unless you happen to live in southern Oregon, which is the site of the only remaining (privately-owned) Blockbuster franchise location, you’ll never again step foot onto that bright blue carpet again. You won’t get to browse the super cheap previously-viewed DVDs (or VHS tapes!). You won’t be tempted by those giant buckets of theater-style popcorn. In the era of streaming, movie rental stores are no longer a thing. Those of us who still have DVD players' only real option for rentals is the Redbox planted outside our favorite big grocery store.
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This long-lasting department store chain, founded in 1898, only closed its doors for good in 2018. For over one hundred years, the Bon-Ton name grew and grew while acquiring individual stores and smaller chains like Bergner’s and Younkers. But after about 2010, things started to go downhill for the brand. Bon-Ton began facing huge financial losses and trouble with the highest-ranking people within the company. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2018 after announcing that they hadn’t turned a profit in nearly a decade. Today, Bon-Ton operates as a website, and the current owners have plans on reopening some stores, but no word yet on whether any will have the Bon-Ton name.
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For a while there, it seemed like ebooks were going to mean the end of the print book industry. Thankfully, that hasn’t turned out to be the case, but that doesn’t mean the industry hasn’t suffered. Case in point: Borders Books & Music, a bookstore chain that used to rival the still-in-business Barnes & Noble brand. Borders used to be all over the place, with hundreds of stores in the United States, the UK, and in other countries. But Borders ultimately went bankrupt and was forced to liquidate all of its stores. This big-box bookstore is no more, and airports and malls everywhere are still feeling the loss today.
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Before there was Best Buy, Circuit City was the go-to electronics store for technology junkies. Established in 1949, the founders knew that electronics were the future, and their store started out as a source for American consumers to buy large appliances and televisions. The store grew rapidly and expanded its locations, gaining a reputation for great prices and a well-trained staff. But as time passed, many of the stores fell into ill repair, and in some cases, the neighborhoods around them deteriorated; Circuit City struggled to compete with shinier, newer electronics stores. By 2009, Circuit City was bankrupt, and all its retail locations closed. These days, the current owners of the Circuit City name operate the store as a website, although there are claims that C.C. retail stores will return again someday. We wouldn't recommend holding your breath.
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In the mid-80s, CompUSA was founded as a small chain that primarily sold computer parts. As the industry grew, so did CompUSA. The company eventually started selling computers, computer hardware, computer software, video game consoles, and other small electronics in its numerous locations. The chain struggled in the early 2000s, as fierce competition from Best Buy and similar big box stores affected sales, and they never found a way to compete in a significant way. By 2012, CompUSA was gone, and it’s long since been sold to a competitor, who maintains it only as a website. The computer superstore, which so many remember fondly, is no more.
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In the '90s, it seems like there were plenty of solid options for educational toy stores, and every shopping mall seemed to have at least one on-site. One such store was the Discovery Channel Store, owned and operated by the cable television network of the same name. The Discovery Channel Store sold all kinds of fun things related to science, animals, space, and dinosaurs, plus plenty of fantastic books that kids couldn't wait to get their hands on. But with time, the stores were eventually closed and all the standalone outlets were gone by 2007. Discovery still offers products in their online store, but those lovely mall locations are gone forever.
Another long-standing, old-fashioned department store that ultimately met its end due to financial woes was Filene’s Department Store. Founded in 1881 in Boston, Massachusetts, Filene’s was quite successful early on, due in part to the co-existence of Filene’s Basement, which sold excess products from the main store at cheaper prices (kind of like the Nordstrom Rack to Nordstrom). Filene’s was sold, then reacquired, but ultimately, Filene’s was shut down in 2006 so that its owners could focus on its other major brand, Macy’s. But while Filene’s Department Store is gone, the original building that housed the store is protected as a historic site.
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Gadzooks was a clothing chain that was founded in Texas in 1983. During its brief run, it shined brightly. Gadzooks expanded rapidly and became a favorite of teenage girls who loved the chain's clothes in the '90s and early 2000s. But as quickly as Gadzooks expanded in size and popularity, it flopped. It should be no surprise that it was too good to last. Gadzooks went into bankruptcy in 2004 and saw stores closed. Ultimately, the chain was purchased by Forever 21, one of its biggest competitors, and F21 closed the remaining Gadzooks locations down for good.
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Those who live or grew up on the West Coast remember The Good Guys, a chain of stores that sold consumer electronics like TVs and computers. It was never a huge chain, but for many, it was iconic. The Good Guys were eventually bought by CompUSA during its own expansion phase, and all Good Guys-branded stores had been closed within a few years. The new owners tried briefly to revive the brand, labeling their stores as CompUSA with The Good Guys Inside, but that idea never really took off. Today, the Good Guys are little more than a memory - as is CompUSA.
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Department stores have a long history in the United States, and another memorable name during the department store era was Hecht’s. Founded in 1857, the chain existed primarily in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., especially in the Washington DC/Maryland/Virginia area. The chain started humbly as a used furniture store but expanded into other markets and other locations. Hecht’s was never as expansive as some chains, but it did boast an impressive number of stores in its more than one hundred years in business. In the 1950s, the Hecht’s chain was acquired by a larger company. When that company was acquired by an even bigger company in 2005, the merger spelled the end for Hecht’s; remaining locations were either closed or rebranded as Macy’s.
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This store was founded in 1955 in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was originally called H. H. Gregg, but later, the company restyled it as hhgregg. The chain sold electronics, appliances, and other household goods like mattresses. In the following decades, hhgregg opened stores throughout the eastern United States. Eventually, diminishing profit margins forced the company into bankruptcy, which it filed for in 2017. All locations were closed by the end of May 2017. Since then, the name has been acquired by another company, which reopened the store as an online-only business. Shoppers can still go on their computers to see if “Gregg’s Got It!”, but they’ll never again shop there in person.
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Residents of Ohio and other Midwestern states may remember Hills department store, a chain best known as one of the largest discount retailers in the United States. It started as a typical department store, but by the time Hills hit its peak (in the late 1980s), most knew the stores best for their excellent prices. Unfortunately, those great prices couldn't last. Hills filed for bankruptcy in 1991. After, it tried to restructure and save itself. But things continued to go downhill, and Hills was acquired by a larger company in the late '90s. When that company also went under, Hills was done for. Some locations now house other familiar big box stores, while others, sadly, remain vacant since Hills' liquidation.
This classic restaurant chain was founded in the 1920s, and its dedication to quality food and excellent service led to it quickly expanding. Before long, it had more than 400 locations, and in the 1970s, it was hugely popular. But it started to decline, primarily due to the rise of cheap fast food. With its widely varied menu, Howard Johnson’s couldn’t really find its niche, and they just couldn’t compete with fast food prices. The stores slowly closed and the last Howard Johnson’s shut its doors for good in 2017.
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As a kid, Imaginarium was a must-stop shop for kids visiting the mall. It was known as a wondrous toy store filled with marvels that were technically educational but, quite frankly, too fascinating and fun for that to matter. Imaginarium was owned by Toys R Us, so knowing how they met their end, it’s perhaps no surprise that your local mall is now devoid of its magic in Imaginarium. In reality, all of these shops had been closed down by 2003, far predating the fall of its parent company. Today’s kids have no idea what they’re missing.
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Department stores have long been a shopper’s choice destination for nearly one-stop shopping, but their overall popularity has declined over the past few decades with the rise of big-box stores and online shopping. Jacobson’s was one such department store. Founded in 1838, the chain was never particularly big, but it had loyal shoppers a good business for a number of years. Very few stores can say they lasted in business for over a century and a half but Jacobson's could. The Jacobson's brand tried to keep up with competition from Macy's and Nordstrom and such, so they changed their store hours and expanded their inventory, but all was for naught. The company ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 2002, and despite an attempt at the last hurrah, all stores had been closed officially by 2011.
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The Kaufmann brothers founded this department store chain bearing their name in 1871. Kaufmann’s catered primarily to men, offering off-the-rack clothing as well as tailoring services. At its height, Kaufmann’s had 59 stores located in 5 states (the original was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), and countless shoppers counted on them for quality clothing and excellent service. Ultimately, Kaufmann’s ended up belonging to Macy’s, who rebranded the Kaufmann’s locations under their own name. Sadly, the iconic, “Big Store” flagship location in Pittsburgh has been redeveloped for other purposes, but locals will always remember the chain.
It may be surprising to discover that KB Toys evolved from a candy store, but then again, perhaps it seems logical; candy and toys both appeal to kids, after all. KB shut down candy sales to focus exclusively on toys, and KB Toys stores were once found in shopping malls everywhere. In the late '90s, there were more than 1300 locations. But KB Toys filed for bankruptcy twice, and all locations had been closed by the end of 2009. The current owners of the name and trademarks of KB Toys have said that it wants to reopen some stores, but that hasn’t happened yet, and quite possibly never will. For now, it seems KB Toys is a thing of the past. What, kids just don't like toys anymore?
Kids 'R Us
Since we already talked about Babies 'R Us and the fate of its parent company Toys 'R Us, it probably should come as a surprise that the much less memorable Kids 'R Us is gone for good. Few people remember that the company once had a chain focused on kids’ clothing. That particular venture was never particularly prosperous and the chain folded in 2004 after just over two decades of business. Kids 'R Us is one brand shoppers can’t expect to be revitalized anytime in the near future.
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In 1910, Levitz Furniture was founded in Pennsylvania, and within a few decades, it was a go-to store for reasonably priced furniture. Levitz was famous for its use of a warehouse-style setup for selling furniture, and with their reasonable prices and good quality, shoppers really did love what they found. But by the '90s, the store's style was starting to feel old and dated; newer shoppers preferred modern furniture showrooms, which gave them a better sense of how that items like couches and chairs would look in their living room. Ultimately, Levitz just couldn’t keep up with the competition, and the company filed for bankruptcy (and liquidated its stores) in 2008.
The very first The Limited was opened in 1963 in Upper Arlington, Ohio, so named because they focused exclusively on a “limited” range of clothing for young women. The store prospered and steadily grew over the next few decades. The '80s saw rapid expansion for the store as The Limited purchased a number of individual stores: Victoria’s Secret, Lane Bryant, Abercrombie & Fitch. The Limited opened more stores and more brands within their parent company while expanding into fragrances, sporting goods, and beauty products. But The Limited faced financial difficulties eventually and filed for bankruptcy in 2017. All stores have since been closed. Sometimes it's better to focus on one thing than spread yourself too thin like The Limited did.
The Limited Too
As teenagers and young adult women flocked to The Limited for their clothing, they took their little sisters to Limited Too, a chain opened and operated by the same parent company which focused on apparel for tween-aged girls. The store concept was quite successful, and Limited Too became its own company in 1999. Limited Too eventually narrowed its focus to just tweens and even started a second chain: Justice. Justice, with its lower prices, ultimately became more successful than its predecessor. Limited Too changed its overall company name, closed down some Limited Too stores, and rebranded others. In 2009, Limited Too stores were no more. Shoppers can still find some Limited Too branded clothes at Justice, but the original Limited Too stores are no more.
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One of Bed Bath & Beyond’s biggest competitors was Linens ‘n Things; a chain started in 1975 that sold household goods from dishes to cookware to household linens. You know, they sold linens... and things! At its height, Linens ‘n Things had about 570 stores across the United States and Canada, but the store eventually began to struggle before it filed for bankruptcy in 2008. By the end of '08, all stores were gone and only the website remained. After emerging from bankruptcy, Linens ‘n Things set up shop as an online-only retailer, selling all the same sorts of things they’d once sold in their brick-and-mortar stores. But even that site eventually failed; the chain was sold in 2013, and the website was shut down five years later.
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Marshall Field’s department store has been around for a long, long time: since 1852. It’s operated under several different names, and the expansive chain has survived fires, wartime economies, and even political scandal. However, Marshall Field’s hit its heyday decades ago, and the chain was bought and sold several times over the years before finally being absorbed by Macy’s. To the dismay of many loyal customers, Macy’s ultimately renamed all Marshall Field’s locations. While the company keeps the brand alive on one level, selling products emblazoned with the brand, the stores themselves are a thing of the past.
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The first Media Play store opened in 1992, and more locations soon followed as owners Musicland sought to expand. Media Play carried a wide variety of products: movies, music, books, even video games. It was a teenager’s dream, and the chain was quite popular. At first. Unfortunately, Media Play just couldn’t keep up with their competition. Between big box stores like Best Buy and online stores like Amazon, Media Play just didn’t have what it took to keep customers coming in. The chain was purchased by Best Buy itself in 2001, which sold it again soon after. With disappointing sales and mounting debts, Media Play went under, and all locations were closed by 2006.
If you spent any time in California prior to 2008, chances are you’ve at least seen a Mervyn’s. Mervyn's was known as a mainstay for back-to-school shopping and a favorite for business clothes, holiday gifts, and jewelry shopping. Though the original locations were in California, the company decided to stray outside of the Golden State. During its expansion, Mervyn's began to struggle. The chain filed for bankruptcy in — you guessed it — 2008, and all of its retail locations were closed soon after.
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You can trace the origins of Miller’s Outpost with the founding of Miller’s Surplus, which sold both military surplus and regular clothes, to 1948. Miller’s Outpost itself was officially founded in 1972, and the chain grew rapidly. Teenagers and young adults loved the stores and there were hundreds of locations (mostly in shopping malls) by the 1980s. The company changed its name in the '90s, although the stores — now renamed Anchor Blue, for their own brand of blue jeans — remained in business for some time to come. But even Anchor Blue went under, filing for bankruptcy in 2009 and closing all stores by 2011.
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Montgomery Ward is another big department store that eventually fell victim to the rise of big-box discount stores like Target and Walmart. This shopping mall mainstay used to be a family name, with hundreds of stores across the country and countless subscribers to its retail catalog. Sadly, Montgomery Ward filed for bankruptcy in the late '90s, and the last store was closed in 2001. These days, shoppers can still buy from Montgomery Ward’s online store, and even use the store-branded credit card to stock up on a wide variety of household goods! But brick-and-mortar locations are a thing of the past.
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Sam Goody, founded in the 1940s, was a chain that sold primarily music and movies. Its founder, the original Sam Goody, was quite the entrepreneur, known for crazy deals that brought in a lot of business. Sam Goody stores quickly became known for reliable employees and their variety of music available in-store. The chain was sold several times over the years and kept expanding throughout every deal. At one point, there were hundreds of Sam Goody stores nationwide. Eventually, troubles in the music industry caught up to the chain, and it ultimately shut down. Most locations were converted into a different music store. Sam Goody isn’t completely gone, but with only a few physical locations left, most people will never shop in one again.
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The Sharper Image used to be a mainstay of American shopping malls. It was the store everyone liked to pop into now and again to set out massage chairs to look for hard-to-find-but-still-strangely-useful items like waterproof AM/FM shower radios. It was the go-to place for holiday presents for dads everywhere, and bosses, and eccentric uncles, and anyone else notoriously difficult to shop for. Today, the Sharper Image’s catalog of unique items can still be found online, and shoppers can even receive a classic paper catalog in the mail. But physical retail locations no longer exist.
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Sports Authority has a somewhat convoluted history stretching past multiple mergers and name changes and buyouts, all the way back to 1928. At peak popularity, Sports Authority had more than 460 stores, where it sold a wide variety of athletic equipment, and it even sponsored a stadium in Denver, Colorado, which bore its name until 2018. The stadium outlasted the Sports Authority stores themselves. The chain filed for bankruptcy in 2016 and was purchased by Dick’s Sporting Goods, which converted everything to their own name. Sports Authority stores, once anchor stores in shopping malls and retail developments, are officially a thing of the past.
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The very first Sport Chalet was opened in Southern California in 1959. Unlike many other big chain stores, Sport Chalet did not even try to expand quickly. Instead, the store focused on equipment that wasn't offered in many other major athletic stores. Things like gear for kayakers, mountain climbers, and SCUBA divers became the store's forte. With their highly knowledgeable employees, the store quickly became a local favorite. A second location was added in 1981, and more stores were added in the coming years. Things seemed to be humming along until financial woes brought things to a screeching halt. Sport Chalet was sold, and eventually the chain entered bankruptcy. All stores were closed by mid-2016.
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The very first Steve & Barry’s was opened on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, where it sold college-related clothing at very reasonable prices. Locations were soon opened on other university campuses in Wisconsin, Indiana, and more. In the late-'90s, Steve & Barry’s expanded to shopping mall locations with an expanded product line, so consumers could now buy college gear and casual clothes from the brand. For a time, Steve & Barry’s was the fastest-growing retailer in the United States. But the economy eventually got to them, and the recession caused the company to fall into financial problems. Steve & Barry’s filed for bankruptcy in 2008, and all stores were closed by the end of that year.
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Stepping into Teavana back when it was still a thing felt like stepping into heaven. Teavana was started in 1997 by a wife and husband team, and the chain quickly grew to hundreds of locations throughout shopping malls, mostly. It sold fancy teas — black, green, white, herbal — and tea paraphernalia. But it gained popularity by offering delicious samples to the thirsty and/or curious, and the store even allowed shoppers to mix custom tea blends. Teavana eventually attracted the attention of the coffee giant Starbucks, who bought it out at the end of 2012. All Teavana stores were closed by 2017, although Starbucks itself still sells (and brews) some Teavana products in their stores.
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Tower Records was the go-to store for music back in the day. Vinyl records, then cassette tapes, and later CDs, filled their shelves and they even sold tickets to movies and live performances at nearby venues. Founded in the '60s in Sacramento, California, Tower Records eventually had stores all across the United States and overseas in various countries in Europe and Asia. The chain had a good, long run, but eventually, the struggling music industry (and their own rapid expansion) caught up with them. Tower Records filed for bankruptcy in 2004, and again in 2006. All retail locations were closed by the end of 2006.
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Residents of the eastern side of the United States may remember Tweeter, an electronics store that sold televisions, car radios, and other consumer electronic goods. Tweeter also offered professional custom installation of these items in cars and private homes. The first location was opened near Boston in 1972, and the chain quickly spread throughout the New England area. Tweeter also acquired a number of smaller electronics chains, and through that method was able to spread further down the coast, and also to California, Nevada, and several other states. Starting in 2007, Tweeter began shutting down stores, and the company filed for bankruptcy soon after, then again in 2008. All stores were closed by early December of that year.
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The first Virgin Megastore was opened in the United Kingdom in 1979. From there, the chain spread across the UK and eventually onto other continents, including North America. At one point, the United States had 23 Virgin Megastores, with plenty more all around the world. Today, the only remaining Megastores are in the Middle East and North Africa; American customers will never again be able to shop there. Unsurprisingly, Virgin Megastores was created by the same owners of the Virgin Records music label, although both were run as separate companies. But the label itself is actually predated by the founders’ original record store.
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Waldenbooks used to be a standard find in shopping malls as a place to stop in for books after busy families are done shopping for clothes and before heading home for the day. Interestingly, Waldenbooks actually can trace its roots back to a book rental store, but after World War II, book retail sales were the future. Over the years, Waldenbooks was bought and sold amongst numerous parent companies, and it experimented with different ways of rebranding itself and trying to increase sales. Ultimately, Waldenbooks was bought by Kmart, a company that also owned Borders, and proceded to spin its books brands off on their own. At one point in time, Waldenbooks had an impressive 1,216 stores and was located in all 50 states. But when Borders started feeling the squeeze, it rebranded some Waldenbooks locations and closed others. When Borders went under in 2011, the remaining locations were closed.
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In the early 1990s, kids who had grown up with Looney Toons rejoiced with the opening of Warner Bros. Studio Stores. Although never particularly widespread — there were less than 150 locations at the chain’s peak — they were a beloved shopping mall favorite where kids and their parents could go to purchase toys, clothes and more featuring characters from Looney Toons and DC comics. Unfortunately, after Warner Bros. owners Time Warner merged with internet giant AOL, the decision was made to close the stores down; all locations were closed by the end of 2001. In the years since, a few locations have been opened overseas, but there are none left in America and no plans to bring them back.
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Anyone who was a teenager in the 1990s and early 2000s knew Wet Seal, an ultra-trendy clothing store that catered to tweens and teens. We all wanted to shop there, looking through the latest trends in too-tight tops and fashionable jeans to the beat of whatever music was making radio waves. Wet Seal had a short, bright run, from its founding in 1995 to unexpectedly firing hundreds of workers with no notice in 2013, to its eventual bankruptcy in 2015. All store locations were closed by 2017. The chain was sold, and since then has reopened as an ultra-trendy online store. But today’s teens will never know the pleasure of shopping at their local mall’s Wet Seal.
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If it seems like the '90s were a golden time for toy stores, you just might be right. The early part of the decade saw the introduction of yet another chain focused on selling educational toys: Zany Brainy. The chain was an offshoot of FAO Schwarz. Zany Brainy sold puzzles, books, and electronics for kids, mostly geared toward elementary- and middle school-age kids. For a time, they were quite popular, especially with daily events like concerts and author appearances. But eventually, financial difficulties set in. The chain lasted for ten years, filing for bankruptcy in 2001 and closing their remaining stores.