It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
For retail, the 2010s were a decade characterized by seismic change: Digital disruption would become the infamous “cause of death” for many of the traditional players that failed to navigate its complexities. However, those same disruptive forces could have very well appeared on the birth certificates of some of the industry’s most exciting and transformative new brands (think digitally native Allbirds and Rothy’s).
For the firms that won’t enter the new decade, mounting debts and their own failures to evolve also shoulder some blame. (Just this year, Manhattan mainstay Barneys filed bankruptcy and landed in the hands of brand management firm Authentic Brands Group and B. Riley Financial, which have plans to shutter most of its physical footprint.)
Here, we round up eight shoe firms that did not make it to 2020.
The everyday low-price family footwear retailer filed Chapter 11 for a second and final time in February 2019 — just two years after it first tried the bankruptcy route — and said it would hang up its hat in North America, liquidating all 2,500 stores in the region. Nevertheless, it continues to operate 750 brick-and-mortar stores throughout Central America, the Caribbean and South America, as well as parts of Asia, Middle East and North Africa. (It had notably prioritized Hispanic consumers as part of its 2017 post-bankruptcy revamp.) Payless was based in Topeka, Kan.
After four decades in business, Boston retailer The Tannery — founded by Sam Hassan in 1973 — filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in July 2017. Over the decades, the retailer operated three locations, two on Boston’s Boylston Street, which included a three-floor flagship, and another in Cambridge, which shuttered its doors in 2016. The flagship closed just this past August. The chain was well known for carrying a wide range of labels, including comfort brands, such as Birkenstock and Mephisto, to fashion lines like Ferragamo and Frye. Hassan, a visible and often outspoken figure in the footwear industry, found himself facing a discrimination suit in 2018, when the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office presented allegations he discriminated against shoppers at the store.
The once-heralded sporting-goods seller filed Chapter 11 in March 2016. And after its failed attempt to use the court process to restructure its operations — which included a plan to reduce its store fleet — Sports Authority folded that same year. At the time of its bankruptcy filing, the Englewood, Colo.-based firm had 463 stores and had hoped it would only need to shutter 140 or so to regain its footing. Competitor Dick’s Sporting Goods snapped up 31 former Sports Authority stores, as well as the retailer’s intellectual property to upend competition.
Connecticut-based firm Vestis Retail Group LLC, owner of outdoor retailer Eastern Mountain Sports, family footwear-and-apparel seller Bob’s Stores and sporting-goods retailer Sport Chalet, filed for Chapter 11 protection in April 2016. The company outlined its plan to exit the Sport Chalet business altogether, shutting down the retailer’s site and liquidating its 50 or so stores. Vestis also made good on its plans to sell EMS and Bob’s to an affiliate of Versa Capital Management LLC. At the time, EMS and Bob’s operated over 80 stores with annual revenue of over $400 million.
Bakers Footwear Group
Bakers Footwear Group, the owner of two popular mall-based women’s footwear retailers, filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2012, citing declining sales. Prior to its demise, the St. Louis-based company had operated 236 Bakers and Wild Pair shoe stores in 37 states. It closed most stores soon after the bankruptcy filing.
Shoes of Prey
A decade after its launch, the pioneering customizable footwear startup announced its collapse into liquidation in March 2019. The Australian company — founded in 2009 by husband-and-wife team Michael and Jodie Fox, as well as Mike Knapp — had challenged the traditional retail model through a business centered on mass customization, allowing shoppers to design their own shoes. The company moved to the United States in 2015 and expanded the team to about 200 members. It also nabbed a buzzy partnership with Nordstrom, where it launched several shop-in-shops. However, the company’s niche model fairly quickly hit hard times, and Michael Fox penned a blog post on Medium describing a “decision paralysis” among mass-market consumers that contributed to the firm’s undoing.
In a seemingly abrupt move, Canadian e-tailer Shoes.com — once a viable competitor of Zappos — announced in January 2017 its plans to shutter all operations immediately. The company said it would take all three of its e-commerce properties — Shoes.com, OnlineShoes.com and ShoeME.ca — offline and close the two Shoes.com brick-and-mortar stores in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada. Walmart-owned Jet.com in January 2017 acquired unaffiliated e-tailer ShoeBuy.com and, three months later, purchased the Shoes.com domain name from its now-defunct Canadian parent company. (It did not buy any of the business’ other assets.) The Shoes.com name now lives on via Walmart.
In February 2017 Michigan-based sporting goods seller MC Sports became the latest sporting goods firm to file for Chapter 11 protection. The firm laid out plans to liquidate all 68 of its stores, located across seven Midwest states.