When the history of the COVID-19 pandemic is written, there will be more than a few words devoted to the retailers the virus decimated as it pounded the economy. The last month, in particular, has brought bankruptcies from well-known brands with deep roots around the country. The weekend, Hertz, the rental car giant, joined the list.
But the impacts of the coronavirus are only half the story. In some cases, such as restaurants and travel companies, the virus is undoubtedly the primary cause of trouble, but in others it looks more like an accelerant – gas on a retail fire that has been burning for quite some time.
On May 7, Neiman Marcus said it was entering Chapter 11, directly impacting roughly 13,000 employees at 68 stores in 18 states. And on May 14, JC Penney, the long-beleaguered legacy retail giant with 850 stores in 49 states said the same thing, a move impacting some 90,000 employees.
Those are some well-known names, but in some ways their bankruptcies may not be shocking. Gyms and clothing stores are exactly the kinds of businesses that the coronavirus lockdown seems designed to damage. Raising one’s heart-rate and sweating are at-home activities these days and apparel shopping is done with a few clicks of a mouse.
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