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Latest retailer moves: bankruptcy, reopening and more

April 29, 2020

Bankruptcy rumors are flying, but no major U.S. department store chain has filed for Chapter 11 protection due to the COVID-19 crisis yet. Macy’s is putting its real estate and inventory up as collateral to raise $5 billion. Nordstrom will try to raise $600 million by issuing 8.75 percent senior secured notes that mature in 2025. JCPenney and Neiman Marcus may be on less sure footing, as both have missed interest payments on loans. Meanwhile, Cowen analysts expect Nordstrom can stay in business for a full year with its stores closed. Cowen gave Macy’s four months, Kohl’s six months and JCPenney seven months.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation sent a memo to governors outlining a three-phased plan for how stores can reopen while maintaining public safety. The guidelines call for sanitation and social-distancing procedures, as well as protocols like regular handwashing, use of gloves and face masks and limits on occupancy in some cases “to no more than five customers per 1,000 square feet of shopping space,” which is half the national fire code requirement.

Georgia is among the nine states that now allow nonessential stores to open under certain safety protocols. See ICSC’s state-by-state guide to business updates and mandates here. Quick-service chain Chick-fil-A, which operates 260 Georgia restaurants, said: “Safe service is our top priority. As some states begin to ease restrictions on the closure of local businesses, we are going to take additional time to review our operations and ensure we have necessary precautions in place.” Other restaurants — including Smokey Bones, which has three Georgia locations — plan to open next week. In the nine states where nonessential stores can open, it expects to have full-service operation for all units by May 2.

As COVID-19 accelerates existing trends and weeds out weaker chains, 100,000 stores could close by 2025, analysts at UBS said in a research note. Smaller retailers would suffer the most, while large chains like Walmart, Target and Costco could benefit from the shuttering of underperforming retail stores. Reduced competition also might benefit dollar stores and home-improvement retailers like The Home Depot and Lowe's, UBS said. 

Chico’s plans to reopen its 1,431 stores in three phases beginning May 4. The company will start by using stores to fulfill online orders. Then it will institute buy-online-pickup-in-store using contactless curbside pickup. Finally, it will implement shopping by appointment for its Chico’s, Soma and White House Black Market brands. “We will have some significant advantages in the next several months, as the majority of our stores are under 3,500 square feet and are located in easily accessible shopping plazas,” CEO Bonnie Brooks said. “Due to the smaller size of our boutiques, Chico’s has the ability to reopen quickly and safely and to follow enhanced safety precautions.” The retailer has introduced Style Connect, proprietary software that allows store associates to help customers select outfits using handheld devices.

Best Buy is taking another step toward fully reopening. Starting in May, the electronics chain will schedule in-store consultations for customers in about 200 of its 1,000 U.S. stores. Best Buy had shut stores to customers, shifted to a curbside-pickup model and suspended in-home services.

Starbucks will reopen 90 percent of its U.S. stores by early June. Modified service will include drive-thru, delivery, in-store pickup and pickup outside the store. About 50 percent of the company’s U.S. stores are completely closed. Meanwhile, the company announced its China operation is expected to recover fully by the end of the fourth quarter and already has 98 percent of its stores open.

Supermarket chain Kroger published a guide for other chains to follow as they reopen their stores. Sharing What We've Learned: A Blueprint for Businesses provides actionable recommendations for retailers, restaurants, foodservice companies, manufacturers, logistics and distribution centers and other industries as they craft plans for safe work environments while the COVID-19 risk persists. “With nearly 2,800 grocery stores, 35 manufacturing plants, 44 distribution centers and 460,000 associates across the country, Kroger has learned and continues to learn a lot while keeping our stores and supply chain open,” said Rodney McMullen, chairman and CEO. “As an essential business, we have taken extensive measures across our footprint to safeguard our associates, customers and supply chain. We are sharing what we’ve learned to help businesses begin to reopen safely and in sync with their respective state plans.”

Hightimes Holding, operator of famed marijuana aficionado publication High Times, will buy 13 Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco dispensaries from Harvest Health & Recreation, one of the largest multistate cannabis retailers in the U.S., for $80 million in cash and stock. Hightimes will revamp and rebrand the stores and license them for regional delivery. The company previously announced plans to open flagship stores in Los Angeles and New York City.

Private equity firm Sycamore Partners is suing to pull out of its $525 million deal to acquire Victoria’s Secret from L Brands, claiming L Brands violated the transaction when it closed its stores and skipped rent payments in April. Sycamore is seeking the court’s approval to break the deal, according to a court filing.

By Brannon Boswell

Executive Editor, Commerce + Communities Today

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