There had been a steady drumbeat of evidence that trouble was brewing at The Limited. During the December shopping rush, the store’s 80 percent off deals and its sudden decision to disallow returns seemed more characteristic of a fire sale than a holiday bonanza.
And reports have cropped up across the country of individual store closures in recent weeks: Shoppers in the Washington region were notified by e-mail that the Pentagon City store was closing. News outlets in places such as Indianapolis, Albany, N.Y., and central Illinois reported that their local Limited stores were shuttering.
Sun Capital Partners, the company that owns The Limited, declined to comment.
A spokesman told the Associated Press that the company will shut its stores by Sunday and that the closures would result in about 4,000 job cuts.
The Limited was once a cornerstone of one of retailing’s most formidable empires. Founded in 1963 by Leslie H. “Les” Wexner, the store was a 2,000-square-foot box named for its limited assortment of women’s apparel. The business mushroomed quickly, perhaps an early harbinger of an era in which specialty stores became a dominant presence in regional shopping malls and began to steal thunder from department stores. As The Limited mushroomed, so did Wexner’s ideas: He opened Express, a trendier women’s clothing chain, and Structure, a men’s shop. His company, which today is called L Brands, briefly owned Lane Bryant, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lerner New York and other concepts. It sold off The Limited in 2007, but remains the corporate parent of Bath & Body Works as well as Victoria’s Secret — a chain that Wexner scooped up for $1 million in 1982.
Liz Dunn, chief executive of retail consulting firm Talmage Advisors, says The Limited has suffered from its inability to keep up with trends.
Shoppers, Dunn said, are “looking for really fast fashion, for things that are hyper-relevant to what’s going on in fashion right now — and as inexpensive as possible.”
The Limited’s sensible office attire doesn’t quite fit that bill.
The retail environment has proved challenging for a variety of stores: Sports Authority went out of business in 2016, shuttering more than 460 locations in U.S. malls and strip malls. PacSun, Aeropostale and American Apparel each have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past year and are aiming to reorganize and revive their businesses.
Macy’s announced this week after a disappointing holiday season that it would aim to cut costs in part by closing some stores and slashing 10,000 jobs.
Earlier, on Nov. 28, The Limited had filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notice in its home state, Ohio, indicating that a mass layoff was imminent. In a letter to employees that was disclosed as part of the notice, executives said “product misses and massive shifts in retail shopping trends have been especially difficult for the company’s business, and the company is dealing with significant debt obligations.”
In October, rival women’s brand Chico’s announced that it had poached The Limited’s chief executive, Diane Ellis.