January is usually the month to announce store closings, but there may not be so many to talk about this month after an unusual pattern of announcements and actual closings last month.
Lower gasoline prices fueled a relatively benign Christmas shopping season at retail and helped troubled retailers hang on. Sales were essentially flat at Barnes & Noble stores in November and December, compared to the year before, and that result is something to brag about when you look at where the print book business is going. I thought I saw a good level of activity when I visited Barnes & Noble stores, and I certainly didn’t see price cuts or higher operating costs compared to the year before, so it seems safe to say Barnes & Noble has bought itself at least another two quarters to tinker with its business model. The same is probably true at Radio Shack. Its relatively isolated stores could expect a bigger boost than most retailers from lower fuel prices that let shoppers drive around more freely. Radio Shack wants to close half of its stores, but only in a way that lets the other half stay open, and it now appears it may get that chance.
It is JCPenney that has the big store closing announcement so far. After holiday-season sales up 3.7 percent from the dismal year before, JCPenney is set to close 4 percent of its stores in April.
Meanwhile, after December news for Wet Seal and Deb, the news gets worse. Wet Seal is closing 2/3 of its stores this week. The entire Deb chain has been turned over to liquidators, with liquidation sales to start any day now, though the deep discounts may not arrive until March. Another fashion retailer, C. Wonder, left with only 12 locations after closings in November, is closing those now too. Retail analysts expect a few more announcements like this to come within the next week or so.