“It happened very quickly,” Ms. Blair said, adding that the store was packed with customers in its final weeks. “I had a few customers complaining about my attitude not being 100 percent, and I was just kind of like: We’re all losing our jobs. I can’t help but walk in here and slowly see it being emptied out and just sort of feel sad.”
And even during the liquidation process, e-commerce looms large.
“The biggest thing we’ve had to do is figure out how to sell stuff online,” Mr. Mulcunry said. Great American has been exploring ways to maximize sales through company websites, ads on Facebook and Instagram, and by offers on Amazon.
“A going-out-of-business sale is exciting: People want to go, it’s fun and drives energy, and that’s what we made money on for a long period of time,” he said. “But if the customer changes, so must the liquidator.”
Mr. McGrail views the power shifts in retail as a “slow and steady” evolution. “Even though we’re seeing this bump of store closures now, it’ll slow down a bit and then we’ll see another wave,” he said. Still, he said that he expected retail square footage to continue to shrink and a widening of the gap between the best malls and more mediocre locations.
Many retailers have been exiting their least profitable mall locations. Gap recently said that it would close 230 stores in the next two years, mostly as leases expire, as it tries to balance its online, outlet and regular sales. Victoria’s Secret plans to close 53 stores in North America this year, up from its usual culling of about 15 stores annually. The chain will still have more than 900 stores.
Payless plans to close 2,300 stores in North America by the end of May, in what is expected to be the biggest liquidation of a retailer by store count. Gymboree started closing 749 Gymboree and Crazy 8 stores in the United States in January. The personalized engraving retailer Things Remembered, which filed for bankruptcy this year, has closed more than 200 stores.
“It’s not really a recession-driven or, even to an extent, management-driven change — it’s a change in the way people are buying,” Mr. Mulcunry said. “Retail is not dying. It’s just changing, so we’re a part of that change.”