Ascena Group Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States as per an announcement Thursday which includes shuttering all of its stores in Canada. That includes four Ann Taylor stores, nine LOFT stores, and almost 40 Justice stores.
ASCENA PLANS TO EXIT THE CANADIAN MARKET AMID RESTRUCTURING
A statement by Ascena said, “As part of the balance sheet restructuring contemplated by the RSA, the Company will optimize its brand portfolio and strategically reduce its footprint with the closing of a significant number of Justice stores and a select number of Ann Taylor, LOFT, Lane Bryant, and Lou & Grey stores. This includes the exit of all stores across brands in Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico and the closure of all Catherines stores.”
In 2015, Ascena acquired Ann Taylor and LOFT which had already expanded into the Canadian market. In 2012, Ann Taylor opened its first Canadian store at CF Toronto Eaton Centre which was followed in November of 2012 with a unit at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Ann Taylor subsequently opened stores at CF Sherway Gardens as well as at Square One in Mississauga. The Yorkdale store was said to have been one of the company’s top performing units and is located in the mall’s 2012 expansion wing which is now home to several notable luxury brands as well as an expanded Holt Renfrew store.
LOFT, which opened its first store in Canada at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre in November of 2012, operates eight other units in Canada including at CF Toronto Eaton Centre in Toronto, Square One in Mississauga, CF Markville near Toronto, CF Lime Ridge in Hamilton, Metropolis at Metrotown near Vancouver, Guildford Town Centre near Vancouver, Park Royal in West Vancouver, and at West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton. LOFT is a more casual and younger brand compared to the classic styles found at Ann Taylor stores.
Both Ann Taylor and LOFT operate mall-based stores in some of Canada’s top centres. Stores are generally in the 4,000-6,000 square foot range.
Justice, which has 38 stores, are located more in suburban retail centres such as strip malls, big-box centres, and outlet malls. That includes 24 stores in Ontario, seven in Alberta, two in British Columbia, two in New Brunswick, and one in each of the provinces including Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia. Boy’s fashion brand ‘Brothers’ shut all Canadian stores several years ago.
ASCENA WAS STRUGGLING PRIOR TO COVID-19
Ascena, which was already struggling financially, was hit hard by COVID-19 store closures. The company entered into a restructuring agreement with over 68% of its secured terms lenders and prior to the outbreak, the company liquidated its Dressbarn stores and sold its Maurices chain.
One landlord for LOFT in Canada said in an interview that vacated spaces would be easier to fill in prime malls, though a wave of store closures means that there will still be vacancies in its shopping centres. Over the summer of 2020, more than 1,500 individual store locations in Canada will close permanently, likely an all-time record. More closures are expected into the fall as well as into early 2021 as retailers grapple with finances. Some bankruptcy filings won’t lead to many or any store closures — last week Quebec-based Tristan filed for bankruptcy protection and says that it will remain operational while keeping stores open.
Landlords in Canada will have to deal with considerable vacancies in the months to come as chains downsize and shutter. We recently reported in Retail Insider about a wave of store closures that is hitting Canada this year as retailers struggle after non-essential stores closed as mandated by governments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.