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Luxe Department Store Barneys New York Staring Bankruptcy In The Face

Barneys New York, an upscale department store brand with 28 locations nationwide, including standard stores, warehouses and restaurants, is considering bankruptcy in the face of high rents, online competition and lingering department store sector malaise.

Barneys New York
A Barneys store in New York City

Barneys is working with law firm Kirkland & Ellis to prepare for a possible bankruptcy in the coming weeks, though the company is exploring other options as well, Reuters reports. The tony retailer, which is nearly 100 years old, is controlled by Perry Capital, though the Perry fund that owns Barneys is not open to new investors. 

Rent at Barneys’ flagship on Madison Avenue in Manhattan jumped from roughly $16M to about $30M in January, nearly wiping out the company's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, CNBC reported.

The specter of potentially higher rents in that part of Manhattan had been haunting the store for some years. In 2016, the potential hikes were characterized as a "ticking time bomb" for Barneys.

To deal with the January rent hike, Barneys obtained an additional $50M in its line of credit with Wells Fargo, though that might turn out to be only a Band-Aid for Barneys' problems. Another lender, TPG Sixth Street Partners, also participated in the credit line extension. 

Barneys is known for its high-end fashion offerings, as well as splashy events to publicize the stores. The company partnered with Lady Gaga in 2011 to create an event called Gaga’s Workshop, which included street performers and inflatable artwork happenings in New York, followed by a ribbon-cutting by Lady Gaga herself.

Barneys operates physical stores in New York City, Beverly Hills, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco and Las Vegas, as well as 16 other full-price or warehouse stores in other parts of the country. It also operates an online store.

As a whole, department stores — even upscale ones — are having a rough go. Department store sales were down 4.7% in May compared with a year earlier, and down 0.7% compared with April, according to the Census Bureau. Retail sales as a whole were up 3.2% for the year in May, and up 0.5% month over month.

Non-luxury retailers are getting hit hard in the current climate as well. Late last week, jewelry and accessories retailer Charming Charlie filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It plans to close all of its locations: 261 stores in 38 states.

The retailer went through bankruptcy last year, which allowed it to reduce debt and cut costs, but wasn't enough to save it, USA Today reports. At that time, the brand closed about 100 stores.

Not counting Charming Charlie, so far this year, U.S. retailers have announced 7,062 store closures and 3,017 store openings, according to the latest weekly Store Openings and Closures Tracker published by Coresight Research.

That compares to 5,864 closures and 3,258 openings for the full year 2018. Announced U.S. store closures could reach 12,000 by the end of 2019, according to Coresight.