Forever 21 is closing all 44 stores across the country, leaving two high profile vacancies in Winnipeg malls.
The Los Angeles-based company announced Sunday that it has filed for bankruptcy in both the U.S. and Canada.
The retail giant has locations at CF Polo Park and Outlet Collection Winnipeg but both stores will be shut down before the end of the year, according to the company.
CF Polo Park General Manager Peter Havens said the mall is disappointed to learn of the store closure and the loss of a tenant occupying 37,000 square feet of space.
“Cadillac Fairview is always looking for opportunities to update the merchandising mix at our shopping centres, to create a premier shopping experience for our Winnipeg customers. We will share our plans for the space when appropriate.”
READ MORE: Sears closing in Polo Park
The mall still has another hole to fill after Sears announced it was leaving two years ago.
“We are currently working on a back fill for the Sears space, but I can’t make a formal announcement until all legal aspects are complete,” Havens said.
Fang Wan, Professor of Marketing at the Asper School of Business, said Forever 21 didn’t have an inviting store layout for customers.
“When you think about the shopping experience going to the retail store, it was so carelessly curated — it wasn’t carefully managed,” she said.
“It doesn’t give you a sense that this is cool fashion, it was almost like you’re going to a warehouse and grabbing stuff.
“The lighting was horrible, the assortment was horrible.”
Local real estate expert, Sandy Shindleman, CEO of Shindico, told 680 CJOB the Winnipeg market simply couldn’t sustain Forever 21’s business model.
“There’s no problem with their price points. It’s very popularly priced… the sales just weren’t there,” he said.
“We have reports of them doing $2-3 million worth of sales annually, in a big store, so that’s not sustainable.”
Shindleman said the retail giant’s withdrawal from the Canadian market will impact malls across the country, but he expects Polo Park to recover from the loss.
“Polo Park will be fine because (the mall) doesn’t have a lot of debt, but every little bit hurts,” he said.
“It hurts us all, because the assessments on these buildings are going to have to allow for bigger vacancy rates, so they won’t be carrying the same load of the tax base as they’re carrying now. ”
WATCH: Forever 21 files for bankruptcy, ceasing operations in Canada and U.S.
Wan said while the store is leaving, both malls have opportunities to use the space left behind to pull in more customers by looking at using the spaces to host events like fashion shows, singing competitions, and bringing in new restaurants and stores.
“It’s a public space and a social space and a space people want to hang out in,” she said.
Mall shoppers like Judith Muesch would like to see new ethically minded stores fill the space left behind.
“I think we should buy less and higher quality,” she said.
“On one hand it’s great for kids to be able to buy cheap clothes but then it’s not usually manufactured responsibly when it’s that cheap.”
Others like Glenda Jorde would like to see the mall add something special.
“I remember downtown we used to go to Eaton’s to a paddle wheel place there and you could get a sandwich. There has to be something where kids can make memories and grow up with that,” she said.
“They need more character and that homey feel and uniqueness.”
In a statement, Forever 21 said customers can continue to use their gift cards until October 15.
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