All 75 Uptons stores to close by year's end

Parent was unable to attract capital for ailing chain

July 21, 1999|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

American Retail Group Inc., the parent company of Norcross, Ga.-based Uptons department stores, will close the 75-store chain, which has two outlets in Maryland.

More than 4,000 people, including the 99 employees of the stores in Columbia and Gaithersburg, will lose their jobs.

The stores will close by the end of the year after liquidating their inventory.

"It's a very competitive industry," American Retail spokeswoman Shira Weissman said yesterday.

"Our financial performance is not meeting our expectations."

Weissman said the privately held company, controlled by the Brenninkmeyer family, announced in February that it was seeking outside investment to help sustain and expand the ailing Uptons chain.

After failing to find sufficient interest, the company decided it was too expensive to keep the chain open and to focus on its core retail specialty stores, Weissman said. The company operates 925 retail specialty stores across the country, including Eastern Mountain Sports, Maurices and Millers Outpost stores.

Howard Davidowitz, chairman of the New York-based national retail consultants Davidowitz & Associates Inc., said Uptons was overshadowed by other moderately priced department stores such as Kohl's, Target and TJ Maxx, which he said are doing "tremendously well."

American Retail Group "had to figure out how to concentrate its store format," Davidowitz said. "You need a lot of capital to expand big stores."

Davidowitz said the company is completing the closings of its big-store formats. In the last decade, American Retail has closed its Ohrbach's, Steinbach's and J. Byron department stores.

Uptons, found mostly in strip malls in the Southeast, is the company's last department store chain. The Maryland stores, in the Dobbin Center in Columbia and the Kentlands shopping center in Gaithersburg, are its northernmost locations. They opened in November 1993 and April 1995, respectively.

In addition to closing the Uptons stores, American Retail will close the chain's headquarters in Norcross and its distribution centers in Georgia and Florida.

Uptons employees will be given career transition assistance and severance based on pay levels and seniority, Weissman said.

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