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Clothing store Express, a mall favorite, has filed for bankruptcy

An Express store promotes deep sales in Valley West Mall in Iowa, in January 2020.
Andrew Harnik
An Express store promotes deep sales in Valley West Mall in Iowa, in January 2020.

Clothing store Express, a longtime mainstay of American malls, has filed for bankruptcy protection, closing dozens of stores but also eyeing a survival plan that involves getting sold.

At its peak, Express outfitted generations of mall shoppers in slacks and blouses, and even acquired brands Bonobos and UpWest.

But the chain has been losing both shoppers and money, as many malls withered and people changed how they dress for work: less formal, more casual, less cookie-cutter, more attitude. Express — neither high-end, nor cheap — got left behind, dragged down further by rent and debt.

Monday's bankruptcy announcementsays the chain will close 95 Express stores, or just under a fifth of them, and all 10 UpWest stores. Last month, the New York Stock Exchange delisted the retailer because of its languishing stock value.

Now, Express has received a bid to be acquired by a consortium. It includes brand-management firm WHP Global and major mall operators Simon Property Group and Brookfield Properties. The companies in recent years have been investing in more retail brands in need of a resuscitation.

New Express CEO Stewart Glendinning acknowledged "missteps" in clothing selection, "most notably in women's, where we were out of balance across categories, price points and wearing occasions," he told investors in November, adding: "We believe strongly there's a path to total company improvement."

In its bankruptcy filing, Express said it's also receiving an infusion of $35 million in new financing from some of its lenders, plus another $49 million from the Internal Revenue Service related to the CARES Act, the federal coronavirus relief package.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.