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The biggest business bankruptcies of 2018

2018 was a bust for some big name stores — but 2019 could be even rougher, say retail experts.

It was a tough year, again, for America's retail landscape. Some iconic brands were forced to file for bankruptcy or close their doors amid massive debt and the increased popularity of online shopping.

Here’s a look back at some of the household names that were among the retail carnage in 2018.

Toys R Us

The 70-year-old toy retailer closed all 735 of its U.S. stores this year after it announced in September 2017 it had filed for bankruptcy. The company liquidated its merchandise before it closed the final Toys R Us and Babies R Us locations in June. It signed off on social media with a photo of its giraffe mascot, Geoffrey, holding a suitcase, along with the message: “Just going on a little vacation is all…#TRUBeContinued.”


Sears Holdings, which owns the iconic department store and Kmart, filed for bankruptcy in October amid plunging sales and massive debt. The company said it would close 142 unprofitable stores by the end of the year and 40 more by February 2019. Earlier this month, a judge ruled Sears could hand out $25 million in bonuses to its executives, a decision that infuriated its laid-off employees.

David’s Bridal

Wedding dress retailer David’s Bridal filed for bankruptcy last month, with the hope that restructuring would help reduce its debt by more than $400 million. The 68-year-old company has struggled in recent years, as brides-to-be try on styles in-store and then find something similar online for a lower price.

Mattress Firm

With low prices, comparison data, and 100-night guarantees, online bed-in-a-box retailers have become the popular choice for people in the market for a new mattress. In October, brick-and-mortar mattress retailer Mattress Firm announced it would file for bankruptcy and close up to 700 stores. The company emerged from bankruptcy in November to hold on to 2,600 stores.


Shoppers loved to test the massage chairs and quirky gadgets at Brookstone’s mall locations. The problem was, they weren’t buying anything. Brookstone filed for bankruptcy in August and cited declining traffic in malls as one of the reasons for its demise. Brookstone said it planned to close its remaining 101 mall stores, but was seeking a buyer for its airport stores and e-commerce business.

The Bon-Ton Stores

Bon-Ton, a department store chain that also operates under the Boston Store, Carson’s, Younker’s, Herberger’s and Elder-Beerman names, went into liquidation after struggling with $1 billion in debt and increased competition from Amazon and Walmart. The retail chain, which was founded in 1898, was purchased by CSC Generation, a technology company that said its goal is “saving companies from Amazon.” A letter posted on the Bon-Ton website from the new owners said they hope to “rebuild an American icon.”


The teen accessory store emerged from bankruptcy in October having rid itself of $1.9 billion in debt. Despite the restructuring, Claire’s said in filings that its business is growing. The company already has a presence in 99 percent of U.S. malls, according to a filing, and said its concessions business grew by more than 4,000 locations this year.

Nine West

Nine West Holdings, which owns Nine West shoes and clothing brand Anne Klein, filed for bankruptcy in April. As part of the restructuring, Nine West and the Bandolino footwear brands were sold to Authentic Brands Group, which owns iconic names such as Hervé Leger, Neil Lane and Juicy Couture. In a statement, Nine West Holdings said it made the sale so it could focus on growing its other core brands.

The outlook for 2019

“There is a lot of stress going on in retail,” said Charlie O’Shea, Moody’s lead retail analyst. He expects to see this sentiment continue through 2019, as other retailers find themselves “piled with too much debt.”

“A lot of the companies struggling right now just don’t have the money to handle the obligations they have,” he said. “I would say 2019 is still going to be a rough year for the challenged retail sector.”