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2000-12-23
Braintree, MA. Another Regional Chain gone

After 42 years in retailing, another large New England retail chain store has gone out of business -- a victim of aggressive dominance by the big national companies. Bradlees, which occupied 105 stores, employed 10,000 people and had $1.5 billion in sales for 1999, is now being liquidated, and will be out of business the day after Christmas. Bradlees has stores in 7 states, with 35 in Massachusetts and 30 in New Jersey. Named after an airport in Connecticut where its first planning meetings were held, Bradlees opened its first store in New London, Connecticut. The company was bought out by the grocer Stop & Shop in 1961, which held it until 1992, when Bradlees was spun off as a publicly-traded company. The firm spent 3 years in bankruptcy in the late 1990s, but emerged from Chapter 11 in February of 1999. During the past year, Bradlees continued to open new stores, with one on Staten Island and another in Philadelphia. As recently as last spring, company officials were praising their financial performance. "FY 99 was a breakthrough year for Bradlees," one press release said. "We have a defined niche in the marketplace. Our company is well-positioned to compete going forward." But, it turns out, there was not much "forward" left. In an April, 2000 press release, Bradless CEO Peter Thorner reiterated: "We have a solid niche in the market and a loyal customer base. Our business is fundamentally healthy." All of that proved to be false. The niche was not big enough to survive, and the customer base was hardly loyal. Some analysts blamed Bradleees demise on a wet summer and a warm winter, but as a report in the Boston Herald noted, companies like Wal-Mart and Target may have a great interest in taking over the dead Bradlees store -- just as they did when Caldors folded up last year. The New England discount chains that dominated business for more than 4 decades, are being replaced by the national chains, as the food chain literally eats up from the bottom. And the last vulture left has the biggest belly.

What you can do: One shopper interviewed by the Herald responed to Bradlees closing this way: "They just opened a nice Target store right down the street. I think it's better." So much for customer loyalty. One could argue that Bradlees died a long, slow death that lasted for more than ten years. But the company kept painting with bright colors its financial future. When they opened their new store on Staten Island, the company reported "early sales results (are) well above expectations." Now 105 stores will be shuttered. I'm sure that Wal-Mart will buy some locations, just as they did with Caldors. In the retail world, its perfectly acceptable to kill another company and then live in its dead buildings. But for the consumer, it begins to look very much like a zero sum game. The only bright side of this demise is that companies like Wal-Mart and Target may not badger some small town for a new location, but recyle the dead Bradlees. But most of these stores are not large enough for a decent supercenter, and how long will a Target or Wal-Mart want to inhabait these corpses? But the death of Caldors and Bradlees are just skeletal reminders that the big chains have not expanded the market, simply moved shares from other cash registers. Some of the Bradlees workers may be able to change the color of their apron to pick out a new one at Wal-Mart -- but they will find a very different employment experience going from the union job at Bradlees to the non-union job at Wal-Mart. Some Christmas present!










 
 
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