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Lord & Taylor Was Beyond Saving Even Before Covid


The bankrupt department-store chain was ill-equipped to survive before the pandemic changed everything, and now it is essentially doomed.
Yet another storied clothing retailer has found itself no match for the financial pain brought on by the pandemic. Lord & Taylor, the department store chain that was once a star among the glittering emporiums of Fifth Avenue, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Lord & Taylor filed along with Le Tote, the startup clothing rental company that had acquired the department store for $100 million last year in one of the weirder plot twists of the industry’s move toward e-commerce. The company says in its filing that its store footprint is “unsustainable” and that it has hired consulting firms to assist with store closures even as it continues to seek bidders.
Given its long and rich history, I understand the desire to find a lifeline for Lord & Taylor. But, by now, a salvage effort is all but pointless and seems likely to be a mere precursor to liquidation. I’d suggest would-be bidders stay away, as it is useless now to try to restore retail’s past instead of acknowledging that the pandemic has reconfigured the industry in such a way that some chains are just beyond saving.
Lord & Taylor has fewer than 40 locations, a tiny fleet you might mistake for an advantage in the online shopping era. After all, Macy’s Inc. and J. C. Penney Co. are closing stores right now in order to survive. But Lord & Taylor’s store portfolio is actually too small – and, crucially, too regionally concentrated — for the current moment. Most obviously, it means it doesn’t have many hubs for curbside pickup or to ship online orders from stores, formats which have suddenly gained primacy amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

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